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Walking benefits for mental health

You’re probably aware that regular exercise is important for your physical health, but do you know about the benefits a simple stroll can have for your mental wellbeing? 

In this article, we’ll be sharing some of the ways a walk a day could make you feel better within yourself, such as relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Whether you’re looking to be more physically active to help with your mood or you’re looking to lose weight and improve your self-esteem, walking has benefits for everyone.

7 ways walking improves mental health

1. It helps to reduce anxiety and stress


If you suffer from anxiety or you find yourself in stressful situations regularly, it can really help to take yourself away from the situation causing these negative feelings; and walking is a healthy way to distract yourself from unhelpful thoughts.

When you walk, you can try to focus on your breathing and surroundings as well as get in touch with your senses to ground yourself. For example, you might think about what you can see, smell, hear and feel whilst walking, allowing yourself time to escape the intrusive thoughts you’re having and be present.

Whilst your heart rate will increase during physical activities (and shortly afterwards), your resting heart rate will eventually decrease if you're active every day. This can be particularly helpful for those suffering with stress and anxiety who may experience increased blood pressure when stressed (due to the release of adrenaline). 

Aside from reducing stress levels, many studies have also shown that walking encourages the release of endorphins (otherwise known as happy hormones) which can improve your mood and leave you in a better headspace. 

2. It can boost your mood and help with depression


If you’re suffering with depression, you may have low energy levels and exercise could be the last thing on your mind. However, exercising regularly can help people with mild or moderate depression as research indicates that it can boost your mood and increase your energy. 

In fact, one study in Australia found that women in their 50s and 60s claimed that their physical and mental health improved when they did 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 200 minutes of walking a week. After three years, researchers checked back in with them and the participants reported that they felt better emotionally and less limited by their depression with regular exercise. This highlights how powerful exercise can be in terms of making you feel better emotionally and physically.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please do speak to a GP about the options available to help - they may suggest talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), medication or other forms of self-help. There are also a number of free helplines you can call, such as Samaritans on 116 123 if you need someone to talk to.

3. You’ll get better sleep


Exercising regularly, even if it is just a walk, can really help to improve the quality of sleep you get. According to a study featured in the Sleep Health journal, light forms of exercise positively impacts your sleep and participants who walked more than those who weren’t as active reported better sleep.

One thing you want to avoid is exercising too late in the evening as strenuous activity too soon before your bedtime could leave you feeling more alert. In a study featured in Harvard Health, research suggests that you avoid any vigorous activity at least an hour before bed to maintain a good sleeping pattern.

4. It can help you to focus


Being active and walking could help to clear your mind and allow you to focus on tasks better. You’re not alone if you find yourself experiencing brain fog when working, and taking short breaks and walking around the office or outside could actually improve your concentration and improve your ability to make decisions.

When we walk (or complete a physical activity), we help to increase the blood flow to our brain which improves our cognitive function and memory. So, getting up and being active could not only boost your mood, it can help to improve your performance!

If you have an underlying health condition, are deficient in nutrients or suffer with a mental health condition such as depression, you may experience brain fog quite often. Try to take more regular walks in the week and notice whether this impacts your ability to think more clearly.

5. It gives you more energy


When we don’t have much energy left in the tank, walking might be the last thing we fancy doing. However, exercise can actually boost your energy levels which will encourage you to be more active. If you have a family, you may find it particularly hard to keep up with the kids, but a simple walk during the day could leave you with more energy to spend time with them and play.

Essentially, getting started with walking and taking those first steps (excuse the pun!) is the hard part, but your mind and body will thank you afterwards as you get comfortable in a new routine.

6. You’ll gain more confidence


Something that can leave many of us feeling low is a lack of confidence and self-esteem. Many people turn to exercise in a bid to lose weight, and walking can certainly help you on your journey to becoming fitter and shedding some pounds. By improving your physical health, you could notice significant changes to your confidence as you reach your weight loss and fitness goals.

If you live in Dorset and want help with losing weight, contact us to find out how we can help.

7. You can connect with others


Walking isn’t just a solo activity, in fact, it’s a great opportunity to connect with friends, family and even strangers. From quick chats with passers by and catching up with friends to joining a walking group to meet new people - walking can bring you together with like-minded individuals.

Loneliness can leave anyone feeling low, so why not give a loved one a call to catch up during a wander about the park or find a local walking group where you can meet new people and reach your goals with the support of others?

Here at LiveWell Dorset, we love group exercise and you can find a walking group near you by using our handy Activity Finder tool.

Physical health benefits of walking

As mentioned, walking won’t just benefit your mental wellbeing; being physically active will have a positive impact on your physical health too. Regular walks can help by:

  • Increasing weight loss and helping you to maintain a healthy weight - being fit and healthy will help to decrease the risk of you becoming overweight and developing health conditions associated with this.
  • Improving your cardiovascular fitness and stamina so you have better endurance, making exercise easier the more you do it.
  • Strengthening your muscles and bones - walking can tone your abdominal muscles and legs, leaving you feeling stronger as well as reducing the loss of bone mass and supporting your joints.
  • Preventing the development of some health conditions including some cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Helping you live a longer, happier life - research indicates that exercising regularly can lead to you living longer, as you’re less likely to develop health conditions.

Is walking everyday good for you?

When it comes to walking, you can walk at a pace that’s comfortable for you - it doesn’t always have to be an intense workout, in fact, you don’t want to push yourself too much and end up with an injury. According to the NHS, just 10 minutes of brisk walking a day will have health benefits and count towards your recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week.

When you’re first starting out with walking, try to go for short, slow-paced walks to warm yourself up. 

Another great way to be more active is to opt for walking to places instead of driving. For example, if your workplace is only a 20 minute walk away, why not walk there instead of driving? Or pick the kids up from school and walk home together instead of getting caught up in the school run (this could also give you more quality time with each other!). 

Where you introduce walking in your daily routine will of course depend on how far away you live from shops, schools and work, but there is always somewhere you can take a stroll to help clear your mind.

Final thoughts

Settling into a new routine can be challenging - especially if you struggle to find the time for exercise. Remember, walking can be incorporated into your day (such as taking a quick walk with a colleague on your lunch break) and even just a short stroll could benefit both your physical and mental health.

You can keep yourself motivated by making your walks more interesting. Instead of taking the same old route, try to explore new areas and journal your experiences of being more active to keep you on track. Some people even find accountability partners helpful as they have someone to informally report to and support them as they work towards becoming healthier. You can read our blog on how to motivate yourself to workout for more ideas.

If you’re looking to get more active or lose weight, we’re here to help. We offer support to Dorset residents, helping you to reach your goals with professional health advisors and coaches by your side.

Register with us today or get in touch with our team who will be more than happy to help.

Looking for some inspiration?

Take a look at how we supported Martin on his journey to walking more regularly as he combatted his diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Georgina

"In January 2019, I was five stone heavier. Now, with the weight loss, parkrun and netball, my anxiety has improved tenfold."

View full story

How does this work?

The tailored approach LiveWell Dorset uses to come up with solutions to the things that are stopping us achieving our goals, is based upon work done by University College London developing the COM-B model of behaviour change. In this model, all behaviour is influenced by understanding a person’s capability to change, their opportunity to change and their motivation to change. By understanding which of these is the biggest barrier to change, we can tailor support accordingly. This model of behaviour change is at the centre of the support we offer, online and in person.

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