Walking for Stress Relief
Staying healthy isn’t just about keeping your body happy, in order to be truly healthy it is vital to keep your mind happy. Stress is a big negative factor when looking at what makes your mind unhappy, and walking might be one of the answers to reducing stress. While many people know that walking is a good way to get exercise during the day (and helps reduce your risk of heart disease), it is also beneficial to keeping your mind sharp and keeps you from dwelling too much on the negative things that may be affecting you.
Although any type of walking or physical activity is good for your health, both mental and physical, multiple studies have found that in particular walking in nature has shown to be beneficial to relieve stress and overall mental happiness.
Adding a 20-minute walk to your day can help put your mind into a meditative state. A study out of the UK found that walking in a green space, like a park or a nature hiking trail, can help put your mind into a state that psychologists call involuntary attention.1 This means that your surroundings keep your attention but they allow you to self-reflect at the same time. Unlike walking in an urban area, which the study found does not allow your brain to slip into this meditative state, green spaces allow you to tune into your thoughts more clearly and to let go of negative feelings. 2
So how should you incorporate walking into your routine? If you work in an urban area, look for a park with walking paths that you can easily get to from your office, and walk for 20-30 minutes a few times a week (walking in nature during the workday also helps to inspire creativity). If you do not have a park near your workspace, dedicate time after work and on the weekends to get out into nature and relieve your stress while getting heart healthy exercise. And remember, it is better to do a short period of exercise multiple times a week than it is to do one or two very long workouts. 3
It is best to start out slow, especially if you are not particularly physically active, start with a slow, but steady, 20-minute walk and as you walk more frequently increase the time you spend. If you already do a decent amount of physical activity, it might be a good idea to look for a few hikes in your area. These will give you a little more of a challenge, and help to keep your body and mind in their top shape. You can typically find good lists of hikes, including difficulty, altitude, and distance, on your community’s parks and recreation website or through travel websites dedicated to your area. Even better for stress relief, invite a friend or two to join you on your walk for some relaxing conversation.
Twenty minutes is less than an episode of most shows, so simply cutting one episode out of your nightly television watching habit and spending that time walking in nature could have beneficial health benefits.
Consult your doctor before adding any new exercise or diet program.
- “Walk Through Green Space Could Help Put Brain in State of Meditation Study Finds.” Huffpost Healthy Living. Huffington Post, 29 March 2013. Web
- Khazan, Olga. “How Walking in Nature Prevents Depression.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 30 June 2015. Web.
- “Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, July 2014. Web.