Learn All About the Mental Health Benefits of Walking
You’ve probably heard a thing or two about the health benefits of exercise, but that doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon or hit the weights with gusto to get the mental benefits of exercise.
A growing body of research has shown that walking can do wonders for your body and your brain. Today we’re going to focus on the brain and explore the mental health benefits of taking a stroll.
Walking in nature actually changes your brain
Stanford’s headline after a study on walking says it all: “Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature.”
It might seem like a lofty claim… could walking in nature really have that big of an impact on our mental health?
Yes, in fact, it can.
The study found quantifiable evidence that walking in nature can lead to a lower risk of depression. People who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to those who walked in a frenzied urban setting, showed “decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.”
Do I have to walk in nature to get the psychological benefits of walking?
While walking in nature is ideal, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if you live in a city or other urban center. Regardless of where you walk, walking still soothes the mind more than not walking.
Robert Thayer, a psychology professor at California State University, Long Beach conducted a study with 37 people over 20 days. The participants wore pedometers to track their steps, but they also used rating scales to judge their day. These ratings included self reported mental health metrics like self-esteem, happiness, overall mood, depression, energy, and tension.
Thayer found that the act of walking seemed to produce more positive energy in people. He explains, "We found that there was a clear and strong relationship between the number of steps they took and their overall mood and energy level.”
How to walk more, every day
If you don’t have easy access to true nature trails, look for a local park, a street with plenty of trees, or hit the sidewalks while listening to calming music to avoid the sounds of traffic.
Other steps you can take to walk more include parking further away from the businesses you frequent, scheduling a nightly family walking ritual after dinner, or setting alarms and reminders for yourself to get up and take a quick walk around the block throughout the day.
If you get creative, you’ll surely be able to find ways to walk more.
Do you feel better after taking a walk? If you aren’t sure, here’s a challenge for you: take a stroll outside and pay attention to how you feel!