Is Walking Good for Your Mental Health?

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A person's legs and feet in athletic shoes, walking outdoors on a paved path.
Author Name: Lucas Cook
Date: Saturday May 11, 2024

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It’s common for people to feel the world’s weight on their shoulders. Stress piles up from an unending to-do list while the anxiety can keep gnawing at your mind. When mental health issues take hold, they can cloud every aspect of your life. In fact, it can make even the simplest tasks feel overwhelming. Yet, what if there was a simple way to clear the fog and reclaim a sense of calm?

Walking — a gentler form of physical exercise — has yielded great benefits for mental health. In a world where most turn to screens or drugs for managing stress, walking offers a fresh alternative and can do wonders for your mental well-being.

An extended arm and hand against a background of blurred trees.

The Link Between Physical Activity and Mental Health

When life gets busy and stressful, it can be easy to overlook the profound connection between the body and mind. The truth is that physical activity can play a large role in mental well-being. And while intense workouts or gym sessions may come to mind first, walking offers a more accessible path to reaping the benefits.

When you get your body moving, your brain releases chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals that reduce pain and make you feel euphoric. It’s a natural way to release tension when built up over time.

Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to step away from devices and other stressors. This allows you to break the cycle of negative thoughts that plague your mind. So, the next time you’re thinking of walking, know that each step contributes to greater mental health.

Benefits of Walking for Mental Health

Research shows that women are at greater risk for depression than men. Yet, you can enjoy all these benefits when you engage in light activities like walking.

Reduces Stress

When stress overwhelms you, even the smallest tasks can feel daunting. Walking offers an effective way to manage and reduce your stress. Beyond an endorphin release, walking introduces a change of environment. Just being in a different place helps you step away from the triggers that cause stress. 

A change of scenery offers immediate relief, providing a mental reset and fresh perspective. Furthermore, walking — especially in nature or tranquil surroundings — can create a meditative effect. It allows your mind to focus on the rhythm of your steps and the sights and sounds around you. As such, it can soothe frazzled nerves and lower stress levels. In fact, one study found that participants who went on an average of 7.5 nature walks reported feeling happier and more at peace.

Increases Mindfulness

It’s easy to get lost in the noise of daily life and feel lost in the same old routine. Yet, going for a brisk morning or afternoon walk will help you slow down and reconnect with yourself. Whether it’s hearing the sounds of the trees blowing in the wind or the feel of the path beneath your feet, walking can help you feel more grounded. It will quiet the mind’s chatter and allow you to appreciate the here and now. 

This effect especially amplifies itself when walking on a trail through nature. Without the hustle and bustle of traffic and people, you can feel more calm. This peaceful environment encourages introspection and brings more awareness to oneself. 

A woman sitting on a bed, looking toward the floor with one foot on a scale.

Improves Mood

It’s no secret that walking can be a good mood booster, but the benefits extend far beyond the temporary release of endorphins. Regular walking offers a twofold advantage, uplifting the mind and body. The steady pace of walking can take your mind off of stressful situations, helping you to escape from reality. Though it may make you feel good at that moment, walking can improve your mood in the long term by aiding weight loss.

Feeling more comfortable in your body boosts self-esteem and overall mental well-being. In an interview with Today, Dr. Cedric Bryant, President and Chief Science Officer of the American Council on Exercise, emphasized the value of walking for weight loss. He stated that 45 to 60 minutes of walking each day can help you shed a few pounds. In turn, weight loss leads to greater confidence and a more positive outlook on life.

Boosts Cognitive Function

Walking also contributes to long-term mental sharpness. Engaging in regular walks has been shown to enhance cognitive function, improving memory, focus and overall mental agility. This is because walking increases blood flow to the brain, delivering essential nutrients and oxygen that support healthy brain function. 

Additionally, the calming effect of walking allows you to process information more effectively and reduce mental fatigue. This enables you to enhance problem-solving and decision-making, providing long-term benefits for your personal and professional life. By making walking a regular habit, you can support your mental acuity and retain a clear mind.

A woman walking along a rugged trail surrounded by grassy hills and rocky terrain, with a backpack slung over her shoulders.

How To Incorporate Walking Into Your Daily Routine

Integrating walking into your daily life can be an easy and enjoyable way to improve your physical and mental health. Here are some practical ways to make walking a regular part of your day:

  • Start small: Make the task of getting into walking easy by beginning with short strolls around your neighborhood. Then, gradually increase the distance over time. Aim for at least 10-15 minutes per walk and build up to 30 minutes or more.
  • Set goals: Establishing achievable goals makes you more likely to stay motivated. Track the number of steps you take or the distance you walk daily using apps or fitness trackers. Consider going for 10,000 steps daily or a specific weekly distance.
  • Walk during work: If you have a desk job, take breaks to stretch your legs and clear your mind. Consider scheduling walking meetings or taking a stroll during lunch breaks. This can provide a refreshing change of pace, boosting productivity and creativity.
  • Combine with leisure activities: Make it a social or relaxing experience by combining it with activities you enjoy. For instance, you could use a treadmill while watching your favorite TV show on cold or rainy days. Or, you could wander through a park while chatting with a family member or friend. 
  • Make it a daily routine: Consistency is essential. Establish regular walking times before or after work and make it a habit. Over time, it will become a natural part of your day, providing benefits for your mental health.

Improve Your Mental Health by Walking

Walking is one physical activity you’d least expect when boosting mental health because it’s such a simple exercise. However, it’s truly effective, providing numerous benefits for your overall well-being. So, the next time life feels overwhelming, go out for a stroll. Step by step, you’ll find a path to a clearer mind, a calmer heart and a healthier self.

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