How Walking can benefit your Mental Health?
Anxiety can have adverse effects on your physical and mental well-being. In the short term, anxiety can cause increased heart rate, quickened breathing, and excessive sweating. In the long run, it may cause hormonal disruption and result in chronic headaches and melancholy. On the whole, it may affect your cardiovascular, digestive, and immune systems over a period. Anxiety affects your brain by getting you to be hypersensitive to impending and perceived threats or your ability to have rational thoughts. If you wish to know how to manage anxiety, a few ways include meditation, calm evaluation of your thoughts, aromatherapy, focused breathing or Pranayama, yoga, and a 20-minute walk. So let’s understand how walking helps to reduce anxiety and stress.
Also read: How Meditation Can Help Relieve Anxiety
According to Harvard Health Publishing, research has shown that an exercise like a brisk walk or a bicycle ride is a powerful tool to counter anxiety. The review states going out for a walk in sneakers may be the best non-medical solution to prevent and treat anxiety.
Walking as an exercise can help boost your mood and overcome anxiety. This was confirmed in a recent study in which participants were made to walk, meditate, or sit, and their mood state was monitored. Further in the Anxiety–Depression Journal, a 2019 study titled “Physical Activity Protects from Incident Anxiety: A Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies” showed that people doing physical activity coped better with anxiety than those who were sedentary.
How can walking reduce anxiety and stress?
Walking plays a pivotal role in helping you manage anxiety. First of all, you get a break from being beset with a whirlpool of thoughts. When you walk, the body sweats, the heart rate eases, and your blood pressure declines. Additionally, while walking, you get some me-time to evaluate the reasons for being stressed and are exposed to some much-needed fresh air.
Rudiments of a walking program for beginners
Walking is an easy and natural form of exercise. The walking program outlined below will help you get started. Here are a few guidelines if you are a novice:
1. Focus on your posture to gain optimum benefits
2. Keep your body upright and use the cue to walk tall
3. Maintain an easy swing of the arms with the hand coming halfway to shoulder level and reaching your hip on the downswing
4. Ensure you do not over-stride by keeping your foot landing close to beneath your hips. Push off firmly with the ball of the foot when completing your stride.
5. Wear comfortable shoes with a wide toe box and cushioned soles
6. Hydrate well before, during, and after your walk
7. Ensure that you stretch for about five minutes after walking
8. Do at least 30 minutes of walking five days a week, as recommended by the American Heart Association
A gradual build-up to that level is explained here:
Beginners’ walking program
Once you are able to walk daily for 30 minutes, continue that for the next two weeks. To progress further, add five minutes to each day and hold that increase for two weeks. Once you reach 45 minutes of walking, hold it for three weeks before going to 50 minutes, and so on. After you reach the level of walking for an hour, you may want to work towards increasing your pace.
Apart from helping you battle anxiety, walking offers many other significant health benefits, such as weight loss, joint mobility, and strength development. Now that you know how walking helps anxiety, join a walking community or group or walk with a close friend to make it an enjoyable activity. For more information, you can also listen to our Walk to Weight Loss podcast.
1. Ratey JJ. Can exercise help treat anxiety? Harvard Health Publishing. 2019; published online Oct 24. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-treat-anxiety (accessed Jun 7, 2021).
2. Edwards MK, Loprinzi PD. Experimental effects of brief, single bouts of walking and meditation on mood profile in young adults. Health Promot Perspect 2018; 8: 171-8.
3. Schuch FB, Stubbs B, Meyer J, et al. Physical activity protects from incident anxiety: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Depress Anxiety 2019; 36: 846-58.