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Why Walking is One of the Best Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

Jun 1, 2023 | Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health, Stress

Walking is an underrated activity that has the power to drastically improve a person’s mental health. It is a simple, low-impact exercise that can be done anywhere, at any time, and by people of all ages and abilities. Walking for mental health can be especially beneficial for those who suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, or other challenging conditions. 

Something as simple as a 30-minute walk per day can effectively improve mental health. In fact, a study from Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine illustrated that adding in light to moderate walking daily improved older adults’ perception of their mental health significantly. These results vary per age group, but as a general rule, walking can improve the mental health of all age groups.

Increased Endorphins

One of the main benefits of walking for mental health is the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that are released by the body during exercise, and they are responsible for the feeling of pleasure and euphoria that often accompanies physical activity. When we walk, our bodies release endorphins, which can help to improve our mood and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Decreased Depression

Walking can also help to reduce feelings of depression. Studies have shown that regular exercise, such as walking, can be as effective as antidepressant medication for treating mild to moderate depression. This is because exercise increases the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, which are known to be involved in regulating mood.

Improved Anxiety

In addition to improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression, walking can also help to reduce anxiety. When we feel anxious, our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode, releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones that can make us feel jittery and tense. Walking can help to reduce these feelings of anxiety by reducing the levels of stress hormones in the body and promoting relaxation.

Better Sleep

Walking can also help to improve sleep, which is crucial for positive mental health. Many people who suffer from mental health conditions also struggle with sleep problems, as the two are closely related. Going for walks can help to improve the quality of sleep by promoting relaxation and reducing feelings of anxiety or stress that can interfere with sleep. Increasing movement throughout the day allows the body to become more tired overall and can make a large difference in overall sleep quality as well.

Improved Cognitive Function

Going for a walk increases blood flow to the brain, which can improve concentration, memory, and overall cognitive function. Studies have shown that walking can even help to improve creativity and problem-solving skills. Interestingly, it has also been shown to lower a person’s risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. For those that are genetically predisposed to this condition, making walking a daily habit can be a powerful tool to combat this. And even for those that are not as concerned, going for a walk can aid them in decision-making, improve clarity, and provide a sense of positive mood.

An Easy Social Outlet

Taking a stroll can also be a social activity that allows a person to connect with a friend or family member while simultaneously improving their mental state. Especially for older adults, this is a great way to interact with another person and get out of the house. Social isolation is a common problem for people with mental health conditions and can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Walking with others can provide a sense of community and support, which can help to improve mental health. Additionally, having an accountability partner can help a person prioritize this healthy movement more often.

Grounding

Finally, walking can be a way to connect with nature, which has been shown to have a positive impact on well-being. Spending time in nature can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and promote relaxation. Taking a walk in natural settings, like a park or forest, can create a sense of connection with the environment, which can be grounding and calming. Fresh air and vitamin D are an added benefit to any outdoor walk as well. In the event of inclement weather, incorporating more walking indoors can be beneficial as well. This could be as simple as taking the stairs when available.

Where To Start

There are many reasons to walk for mental health, but getting started can be a challenge for some people. Here are some tips for getting started with a walking routine:

  • Start small. If you’re new to exercise, start with just a few minutes of walking each day and gradually increase the time and distance as you feel comfortable.
  • Set goals. Setting goals can help to keep you motivated and focused. Start with small goals, such as walking for 10 minutes a day, and work up to larger goals, such as walking for 30 minutes a day.
  • Make it a habit. Try to incorporate walking into your daily routine, such as going to work or after dinner. Making it a habit can help to ensure that you stick with it over the long term.
  • Find a walking buddy. Walking with a friend or family member can make the experience more enjoyable and can provide a sense of support and accountability.
  • Get outside. Walking in nature can be especially beneficial for mental health, so try to find a park or natural setting to walk in whenever possible.

To put it simply, walking can be an effective and low-cost way to improve mental health. It provides a wide range of benefits, including improved mood, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, better sleep, improved cognitive function, and a sense of social connection.

There are also many different ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine. Whether you prefer to walk alone or with others, indoors or outdoors, for short or long distances, there is a walking routine that can work for you.

It is important to mention that while walking can be helpful for improving mental health, it should not be seen as a substitute for professional mental health treatment. If you are struggling with mental health issues, it is important to seek the help of a mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist. In addition to seeking professional help, incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine, such as regular exercise, can be a valuable part of a holistic approach to mental health. Remember to make it a habit and find ways to make it enjoyable, such as walking with a friend or in a natural setting.

Walking is a relatively simple and accessible way to improve mental health that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Incorporating walking into your daily routine can allow you to experience the many benefits it has to offer and improve your overall well-being.

New Dimensions Can Help!

New Dimensions provides psychological testing services and intensive treatment programs for adolescents and adults.  To learn more about our treatment services for mental health and substance abuse issues, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at www.nddtreatment.com.  You can also find an individual therapist at www.mhthrive.com.