Walking regularly can have a positive effect on mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and ADHD. A daily 30-minute walk has also been shown to reduce stress levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
And that’s not all. Light exercise can help to boost your mood, improve memory, aid sleep and prolong life. A UK-based study found that walking quicker can extend your life by as much as 15 years.
Moreover, people that walk on a regular basis say the exercise gives them an enormous sense of wellbeing – especially, people that have the opportunity to enjoy a walk in nature.
The best news is that you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic or over exert yourself to reap the benefits of walking. A daily amble is classed as light exercise and is achievable by able-bodied individuals regardless of their age or fitness levels.
That’s not to say you should rush into brisk walking as an exercise if you have been a couch potato for years. Fitness experts still recommend building top your resilience.
Links Between Walking And Mental Health
Numerous studies in the last decade or so have shown that walking has multiple health benefits – both physically and mentally.
In older people, walking has shown to help improve cognition, memory, attention and processing speed. Walking could also reduce the risk of dementia.
Bipolar patients have also reported that walking helps them improve their mood when they are feeling low. It boosts their confidence and helps them grow emotionally.
One of the major causes of mental health disorders today is stress. This may be due to work-related stress, the burden of relationships and families, bereavement, social isolation, and childhood traumas among others.
Brisk walking can also help with weight loss. In turn, losing weight helps you feel better about yourself and gives you a positive outlook.
Walking Eases Depression
Several studies have determined that people who exercise are 30% less likely to feel depressed than inactive people. Studies show that walking:
- Boosts positive self-perception
- Enhances self-esteem
- Improves mood and sleep quality
- Reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue
- Sharpens memory and cognitive thinking
- Increases energy levels
- Builds resilience
Studies have shown that light exercise such as walking can help treat mild to moderate depression. One study found walking was as effective as antidepressants but without the side effects.
The reason why walking is effective at staving off depression is that it stimulates feel-good chemicals in the brain. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins – and if there is a reward – dopamine.
These changes in your brain promote neural connections that reduce inflammation and form new patterns of activity such as a feeling of calm. If you use the time to distract you from overthinking, you can also break cycles of negative thinking that induce stress hormones.
Walking and Anxiety
Because walking relieves tension and stress, health experts earmarked it as an effective treatment for anxiety years ago.
The chemical cocktail naturally produced by the brain when you exercise enhances feelings of wellbeing and mental energy including increased cognitive performance.
By picking up your mood by walking, you naturally feel less anxious. You can also ward off anxiety by being more mindful of how your body moves when you walk.
Focus on the sensation in your feet and the flowing motion of your body when you walk. You could even use a buddhist technique and follow the rhythm of your breath as you heart picks or pace or notice how the air feels on your skin.
Walking as a Stress Reliever
A chronic build up of stress manifests as aches and pains in your body. The discomfort can have a knock-on effect and cause you to worry about the symptoms which leads to more stress.
Stress hormones also impact how your body functions and can cause stomach pain, cramps, heartburn, diarrhoea and the need to urinate frequently.
Stress has been linked with multiple illnesses and has promoted the World Health Organisation to describe stress as a “21st-Century epidemic.”
Regular walks can help relieve stress and ease the aches and pains. This is especially important for people that work in a sedentary job and spend most of the day in a sitting position, thinking a lot and stressing out about meeting targets.
Walking and ADHD
According to the NHS, researchers have concluded that children that suffer from ADHD show improved levels of concentration after walking in the park. This not only shows that walking helps stimulate their mind, but nature does as well.
The study showed that being in green space was just as effective as methylphenidate treatments such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Researchers concluded that children with ADHD performed better after a walk because the brain releases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin during exercise and positive experiences. Each of these neurotransmitters affect focus and attention.
How Much Walking Should You Do To Improve Mental Health
You could be forgiven for thinking that you will need to walk miles upon miles to boost mental and physical health. But that’s not actually the case. Researchers estimate 7500 steps a day is sufficient.
Depending on the pace you walk, that’s only about 30-45 minutes of exercise a day. You would ordinarily spend more time at the gym, swimming or yoga.
What’s more, you don’t even have to clock up all 7500 steps in one go. You could take 10-15 minute breaks every two hours and give yourself a rest from work.
Practicing mindful techniques during these shorter spells also helps to boost cognitive function so that you heighten your performance when you do return to work.
As a matter of fact, studies have shown that moderate exercise is more beneficial that over exerting yourself. You don’t have to sweat buckets to feel the benefits of physical exercise.
The key to moderate exercise is that you:
- Breathe heavier than normal without being out of breath
- Your heart rate pumps at a quicker pace without racing
- Your body is warmer but not overheated
Ironically, the no-pain, no-gain mentality is a barrier that puts people off religiously performing a vigorous training program. In reality, taking exercise in your stride is equally, if not more, beneficial to your mental and physical health.
Symptoms of Mental Health Issues
It is commonly thought that mental health issues only relate to people with serious problems such as schizophrenia, psychosis, psychopath and sociopathy.
Clinicians define mental health disorders as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, and neuroticism.
However, evidence shows the early signs of mental health disorders can appear in a wide number of ways. If you resonate with any or several of the symptoms below, you should take immediate action to ward of damaging your mental health.
- Feeling sad, down or melancholic
- Lack of concentration or confusion
- Excessive worry or irrational fear
- Extreme feelings of guilt
- Excessive mood swings
- Withdrawing from society and friends
- Insomnia and/or fatigue
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
- Inability to cope with general situations – feeling overwhelmed
- Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
- Problems with alcohol or drug use
- Comfort eating or overeating
- Over active or under active sex drive
- Excessive anger, hostility or violence
- Suicidal thoughts
How Mental Health Can Effect Your Workout
Some of the symptoms mentioned above will have a knock-on affect with your willingness to exercise.
For example, if depression make you feel tired or stressed, motivating yourself to go to the gym or swimming pool can be difficult.
Walking has less mental barriers. In general, you have to walk anyway, and once you get started, exercising is so much easier. A good strategy is to walk home or take the longer ‘scenic’ route.
What you will find is that walking ‘the extra mile’ will energise you and snap you out of feeling tired. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue.
A good strategy to exercise more is to use walking as a motivational tool. For example, if you feel overwhelmed with work or when you’re at home with the family, going for a walk can help you clear your mind and relieve you from the burden of stress.
`The same strategy works when you have feelings of despair and hopelessness. Sometimes, when you are hit with unexpected news, it skews your perception. A walk helps you to put things into perspective.
Motivation Tactics That Get You Walking
People that do suffer from anxiety, depression or other mental health issues often find it difficult to motivate themselves to exercise. It’s not uncommon for people to feel caught in two minds; on the one hand you don’t feel as though you have the energy to exercise, but you know it help you feel better.
Mental health is generally a mental issues – often caused by emotional blockages that we carry round for years. If you do struggle with mental blocks that hamper motivation or make you feel fatigued and overwhelmed, a light exercise such as walking is far less demanding.
Moreover, if it’s been a while since you last did any exercise, the smart strategy is to start small. There’s no set rule that says you have to clock up 7500 steps every day from the get-go.
As a matter of fact, if you overexert yourself on your first outing, the aches and pains you will feel in your body the following day could deter you from persevering.
Also, it is a good idea for you to get into the habit of exercising when you feel stressed. Studies have found that emotional stress increases morbidity and mortality rates at an “alarming” rate.
If you ignore exercise programs when you do fall under a cloud of emotional stress, it is all the more harder to motivate yourself to exercise at all. As a result, your mental disorder will get worse and eventually your physical health is affected as well.
Set yourself small goals – and if you feel you operate better when sticking to a schedule, make a space in your schedule to exercise. Ideally, you should out several 10 or 15-minute blocks for when you can go for a walk during obligatory work breaks.
The movement of walking alone can help you feel better. The more you make exercising a habit, you cultivate a greater sense of wellbeing and motivating yourself to start your walking program becomes easier. Once you get started, exercising is easy.
Need More Motivation To Get You Walking?
Everything is easier when you enjoy it. If you feel you need motivating to go walking, work on strategies that help you find your step easily.
Walking in nature is exceptionally beneficial to your health. If you are fortunate enough to live in a natural beauty spot, take advantage of the idyllic location and go for a walk.
If you have a family or friends, make your nature walk engaging by playing games, quizzes or setting challenges.
You may even want to consider investing in a dog. Pets are a great way to help you battle mental illnesses such as depression and they give you the perfect reason to go for a walk.
There are also other benefits of dog walking. You can easily get chatting to other people in the park or by joining a dog club. If your mental disorder is related to loneliness, becoming a dog owner could be a catalyst that helps you on the road to recovery.
Set yourself goals, and if needs be, promise yourself a reward when you achieve you objectives. This can be a great strategy if you are disciplined enough to forgo the reward if you do not meet your goals.
Downloading the Sweartcoin app can also be very rewarding. We have teamed up with over 300 partners that over special discounts in return for SWC (Sweatcoins).
For every 1000 steps you take, you earn 1 SWC – so you could be earning 7.5 SWC a day. Many of the offers hosted through the Sweatcoin app only require a minimum of 15-25 SWC. 2 or 3 days walking can earn you discounts of all manner of merchandise.