Physical exercise and bonding relationships are needed for emotional wellbeing. Walking improves your mood and gives you the best of both worlds.
Data released by the World Health Organisation estimates that, globally, around five per cent of adults suffer from depression. These causes are typically attributed to high-stress jobs, too much screen time, and loneliness.
Health studies have shown that regular exercise eases the symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions such as anxiety.
Studies show that people who exercise regularly have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety whilst another study concluded that walking for 30 minutes a day reduces the risk of depression by 26%.
In addition, walking with friends or joining a walking club, brings you into contact with others. Research also shows that our minds are hardwired to seek out like-minded people – and when you find them you feel happier.
Mood-Boosting Brain Chemicals
Mood is mostly regulated in the brain by neurotransmitters – chemicals in the brain that are released in response to our environment. Our daily experiences prompt thoughts and thoughts prompt emotions.
If you often find yourself in stressful situations, your body comes under intense pressure from stress hormones. Likewise, if you do not have a close support network, you may be low on neurotransmitters that are natural mood lifters.
Exercise is known to limit the effects of stress and balance brain chemicals that give you an emotional boost. On the flip side, an imbalance in neurotransmitters can cause depression.
The other ‘big four’ neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline and oxytocin, all of which are triggered by exercise. If you engage in a regular program, walking improves your mood.
Serotonin is thought to play a significant role in regulating mood. Studies show that people suffering from depression typically have decreased levels of serotonin and higher levels of cortisol.
Increased levels of cortisol have been linked with damage to the brain that may prevent cell growth in regions of the brain that control mood. Serotonin, on the other hand, promotes feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” factor. By its label alone, you can determine this neurochemical plays a role in controlling mood. It’s effects are linked with the brain’s reward system – doing things we love. Stimulating conversation releases dopamine.
Adrenaline is the most well-known chemical to affect mood. People that engage in daredevil stunts and extreme sports do it for the adrenaline rush that gives them a natural high. You can stimulate adrenaline by hiking challenging paths or walking close to a cliff edge (don’t do that if you are afraid of heights and have bad balance).
The brain naturally secretes adrenaline to make you more alert when there is a perceived threat. However, it can be triggered in times of stress and worry that you perceive to be threatening – such as the risk of losing your job. This is when adrenaline works against you.
Too much adrenaline can cause feelings of dizziness, light-headedness and blurred vision. The chemical imbalance can result in symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.
Also known as the “love hormone”, oxytocin promotes trust and empathy. This neurotransmitter, therefore, plays a role in bonding. Low levels of oxytocin have been found in patients diagnosed with depression.
Joining a walking club and making new friends can help to regulate your mood. As a result, you will feel more fulfilled, sleep better, feel better and treat others better too.
Social Walking Improves Your Mood
Of course, you don’t have to join a club to experience how walking improves your mood. You can walk with friends – or even fitness walking with friends. Rather than going for a coffee, why not head to the park, beach or into the hills for the day.
The positive effects of exercise and spending time with your closest friends is the best way to ward off depression. Once you realise how socialising and walking improves your mood, you’ll want to walk more often.
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