How walking can boost your mental health

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Health Assured team

05 May 2022

Physical activity, such as walking, provides a range of health benefits for both the body and mind. These benefits vary from lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease to improving mood and self-esteem.

Walking is a low-cost and accessible form of physical activity. As with many exercises, the most challenging aspect is getting started. Walking, on the other hand, requires minimal preparation and yields significant health benefits such as weight loss, increased fitness levels and lower blood pressure.

 

Activity and mental health

Research in the UK shows, adults with excess weight have a 55% higher risk of developing depression over their lifetime compared to people who are not overweight. Over recent decades, obesity has become a major health issue in the UK. The Health Survey for England estimates that 28% of adults are obese and a further 36.2% are overweight.

To combat this, research recommends 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, three times each week to feel the associated health benefits. These walks don’t have to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are just as effective.  

Physical activity also helps to promote cognitive health. As a result, walking provides a range of psychological benefits – improved mood, decreased anxiety and stress, as well as enhancing production of endorphins, which help produce positive feelings.

 

What are the health advantages of walking?

There are multiple ways in which walking can foster better mental health. From enhancing focus in the workplace to diverting attention away from worries. Here are some of the benefits associated with walking:

 

  1. Increased endorphin levels

Regular walking enhances the natural release of endorphins which stimulate relaxation and improve your mood. These chemicals work by interacting with receptors in your brain to reduce the perceptions of pain and give feelings of wellbeing.

 

  1. Improved body confidence

As mentioned, obesity has become a significant risk factor for mental health issues. Having body image concerns has become a prevalent occurrence in modern society. Over a third of UK adults have felt anxious or depressed because of concerns about their body. Over time, walking can promote weight loss and body satisfaction, which promotes better wellbeing.

 

  1. Enhance focus

Taking part in exercise can help you stay focused and solve problems more efficiently. Aerobic exercises such as walking increase blood flow to the brain, which stimulates cognitive function and concentration. As a result, brief bouts of walking throughout your day can promote focus in the workplace. Additionally, walking can also help you live longer by reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

 

  1. Promotes mindfulness

By concentrating on each individual step, walking can become a mindful practice, placing emphasis on the present moment. Like meditation, mindful walking provides an easy technique to reduce anxiety and create feelings of wellbeing.

 

  1. Better sleep

Research suggests that engaging in regular walking can improve sleep. Aerobic exercises (such as walking) increase the amount of deep sleep you get. This type of sleep allows the brain and body to rest. “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of John Hopkins Center for Sleep and Wellness.

 

To further understand the health benefits associated with nature and being outdoors please read our blog post The positive impacts of nature on mental health.

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