Exercise is good for your body. It can help in the prevention and management of chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease, and may even boost brain health. But can the benefits of exercise go beyond just physical health?
Research has found that exercise can also provide mental health benefits. It can boost a person's mood and self-esteem. And, it can even be helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety. Walking, in particular, is one form of exercise that can help provide mental and physical benefits without the expense or risk of many other types of exercise.
What Is Anxiety?
People who have anxiety generally have intense thoughts or feelings of worry. This mental health condition may also cause rumination. The thoughts and bodily sensations continue even when no actual danger is present. People with anxiety often struggle to control their thoughts and emotions, which can cause difficulties in daily life.
For example, a person with anxiety may have difficulty concentrating during a conversation with a loved one when their anxious thoughts pull their attention in a different direction. This type of struggle can affect social relationships. In addition, people with anxiety often experience feelings of irritability, as well as restlessness. They may have headaches and feel fatigued, or have difficulty sleeping.
However, there are interventions and coping strategies that people can incorporate into their lives to help improve these symptoms. One of which is so simple, it's literally a walk in the park.
Does Walking Help Anxiety?
Walking is a low-intensity aerobic exercise that has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety. It allows people to experience physical sensations often linked to anxiety, such as an elevated heart rate. But they experience these sensations in a situation where they are in control. The exposure can reduce a person's sensitivity to anxiety symptoms and increase their tolerance of symptoms.
So how long do you need to walk in order to notice a difference? One study shows that walking can provide health benefits when you walk every day for a period of two weeks. Another study from the journal of Health Promotion Perspectives found that people can experience an immediate boost in their mood just by taking a brisk 10-minute walk.
And there's more good news. You don't have to power walk in order to notice any changes in your symptoms (although you may want to). Research has found that both high intensity and low intensity walking can help. But, high-intensity workouts have been shown to provide stronger effects. For example, if you power walk, you may notice a stronger reduction in your anxiety symptoms.
Other Health Benefits of Walking
- Boosts mood
- Helps maintain a healthy weight
- Improves sleep
- Lowers the risk of heart disease
- Reduces stress
- Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of diabetes
- Strengthens bones and muscles
5 Simple Ways to Start Walking
Now that you know walking is good for your mental health and overall well-being, you might feel inspired to incorporate it into your daily routine. There's no right or wrong way to get your walk on, but there are some things you can do that might make your new hobby more effective and enjoyable.
Take a Mindful Walk
A mindful walk combines the health benefits of mindfulness and walking. It's the practice of being fully present while you take your stroll. It allows you to bring your focus to how you feel on the inside, as well as to the environment around you. Notice the sounds of the birds in the trees. Breathe in the fresh air. Feel the plants against your fingertips. You can also listen to a guided meditation for a mindful walk.
Bring a Friend
If you want to incorporate walking into your daily or weekly routine, then it can be helpful to make the activity as enjoyable as possible So, bring a friend. Or, bring a group of friends. You can walk and talk together and turn walking into a social activity that can improve your mental and physical health. Don't forget your furry friends. Your pets might also make great walking companions.
Listen to Music
Another way to make walking more enjoyable is to listen to music. Make a playlist of your favorite songs to keep you motivated. Find a podcast you like and walk for one episode. Or, if you're into audiobooks, walk for one chapter. When you make your walking experience more positive and entertaining, you might just find that you'll be more likely to stick to it.
Walk Instead of Drive
Are you wondering how you can fit walking into your busy schedule? You're not alone. However, the good thing is that it might be easier than you think. One way is to swap driving for walking whenever you can. Does a friend live close enough to walk to their house? Or is the grocery store only a couple of blocks away? Take a walk instead of a drive and see how you feel. Find what swaps make sense for you and your schedule.
Track Your Progress
When you start walking, you might want to track your progress to see how far you've walked each week. It can feel amazing to see the numbers grow over time. And, you may want to use those numbers to set goals for yourself. Maybe you're able to comfortably walk a couple of miles a week. You can use that as your mile or step count goal. Move it up and down depending on how you and your body are feeling. When you reach one goal, celebrate. And then give yourself another challenge to strive for.
Whether you want to walk around a track, your neighborhood, or a local park, you can experience the health benefits of walking. Find an environment or a route that feels good to you. Get your friends and family members involved and have them walk with you to make the experience more lively and social. The more you enjoy walking, the more likely you will be to stick with the practice. So go out there and get walking. You can improve your anxiety symptoms and overall well-being one step at a time.