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Stepping Towards Wellness: Walking Your Way to Better Mental Health

Benefits of walking for mental health

When it comes to maintaining our physical health, the importance of regular exercise is a well-established fact. But have you considered its impact on your mental well-being? Specifically, the simple act of walking can work wonders for your mind, aiding in everything from anxiety reduction to mood enhancement. Here's an exploration of how walking can boost mental health, and how to incorporate more steps into your daily routine. It is also an opportunity to move your body, release the “good” neurotransmitters, and even time outside.

The Mental Health Benefits of Walking

Walking may seem basic, but its impact on mental health is profound. It can be a little hack to your mental health. Here's why:

  • Anxiety Relief: Studies have found that walking and other forms of moderate aerobic exercise can have a calming effect on the mind, thereby reducing feelings of anxiety. This is likely due to the release of endorphins, often referred to as the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators.

  • Mood Enhancement: Regular walking stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that play a crucial role in mood regulation. This is why a brisk walk can often help to shake off a bout of bad mood or mild depression.

  • Stress Reduction: Walking can help to lower your body's stress hormones like cortisol. By incorporating regular walking into your routine, you can help your body better manage stress.

  • Improved Sleep: Regular walkers often report improved sleep patterns. Quality sleep is linked to better overall mental health, helping to decrease instances of anxiety and depression.

Incorporating Movement into Daily Life

Building a walking routine into your life is simpler than you might think. Here are a few strategies:

  • Start Slow: Don't rush it. Begin with short walks, maybe 10 to 15 minutes a day, and gradually increase your time as your endurance improves.

    • It can also be stressful and even anxiety-provoking to try out something new even to pick out what route to walk. Look for things that you are comfortable with, such as:

      • Do you prefer more sidewalks over trails?

      • Drive by areas to scope them out first or look at them on Google Maps

  • Make It Routine: Try to incorporate walking into your daily routine. This could be a morning walk before work, a lunchtime stroll, or an evening walk to wind down the day.

    • Even scheduling it into your day can help see where it fits in vs. saying “Oh, I will do it later”. It can even show just how much time it takes up especially if your aim is 10-15 minutes at first.

  • Walk and Talk: Instead of sitting down for a coffee, invite friends or colleagues for a walk-and-talk meeting. This way, you can socialize and get your steps in at the same time.

    • I have a few friends that are my go-to’s for doing this, it is a way for us to be outside, be active together, talking, and even enjoying our surroundings.

  • Set Goals: Using a pedometer or a fitness app, set a daily step goal. Having a target can motivate you to move more. If you are not concerned with hitting any fitness goals, you can create other goals. Such as seeing about walking to a new coffee shop that you have been interested in trying out, exploring the new blooms or changing of season in different areas, or create a challenge of how many times you see something like unique lawn sculptures or even how many dogs out for a walk too.

    • Mix up your goals, I like to find a balance of walking around my neighborhood, finding new city blocks, trying a new cafe, even finding a new hiking trail to explore. I find it important since I no longer work out of an office to get outside and move.

    • When I worked in an office, I would find breaks and do a lap around my office building just to get in some movement.

Things to Consider Before Walking

Before lacing up your sneakers and hit that path you have been eyeing up, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Safety: If you're walking early in the morning or late at night, ensure you're in a safe, well-lit area. If possible, walk with a friend or in areas where other people are present.

    • No matter where you live, city, suburbs, country or somewhere in between, being comfortable in your surroundings is important. It is one thing to experience anxiety with trying something new, but if your gut tells you something is off like it is too dark or you are not familiar with the neighborhood, skip it for another time.

  • Footwear: Invest in a good pair of comfortable walking shoes that provide the necessary support or be sure to wear those sneakers that best support you.

  • Warm Up and Cool Down: This helps prevent injury. Start with a slow walk to warm up your muscles, then pick up your pace. At the end of your walk, slow down to a leisurely pace to cool down.

    • I know after a day of intense exercise, I need to do a little stretching before and after.

  • Hydration: Always stay hydrated, especially in warmer weather.

  • Consult a Healthcare Professional: If you've been inactive for a while or have underlying health conditions, it's always a good idea to consult with your doctor or a physical therapist before starting a new exercise regimen.

Walking is a low-impact, accessible form of exercise with significant benefits for your mental health. By taking it one step at a time, you're not just moving your body, but also taking strides towards improved mental wellbeing. So go ahead, and put your best foot forward on the path to better mental health.


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