Can walking help reduce stress and anxiety – Yes it can!
One of the reasons I love to walk is that it helps reduce stress and anxiety especially after a tough day at work. I learnt very quickly that walking was more than a physical exercise for my body but it was also for my mind. I am not alone either as many people walk for mental health reasons as well as spiritual reasons too.
Can walking help reduce stress and anxiety? Yes, it certainly can. Walking is an exercise and as such when we exercise our body releases endorphins. These feel-good endorphins help us to improve our mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Walking also allows you time to think and get the space you need as well as being a time when you can meditate and be mindful of how you are feeling.
While I know that walking is helping me reduce my weight I also know that after a tough day at work it is a great stress reliever. It’s not just me saying that either. Numerous studies have shown that moderate paced walking reduces stress, anxiety and it is one factor that is used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help patients who suffer from depression. It is known as behavioral activation and is very important in CBT as it has to do with the way that behaviors and feelings influence each other. So going for a walk activates the happy endorphins which in turn helps change your mood.
Before I get in to how walking helps reduce stress and anxiety, I want to talk about stress. Stress can be both a positive emotion and it can be a negative one. With today’s fast paced living we are constantly dealing with stress but it’s how we handle it that makes all the difference. Having a strategy to deal with the stress you are facing can make all the difference to you, your body, your mind and how you interact with others. Stress comes in to play when something happens are we can’t find a solution.
When we are under stress our body changes. It produces hormones that make our pulse go quicker, our muscles become tense, and our blood pressure rises. You may know this as the “fight or flight” mechanism that we would have used centuries ago if we were being chased by a wild animal and trying to survive.
Fight or flight may be useful in some situations today, if your life is in danger, if you are in a race. Unfortunately, it is not very useful when that stress builds up in situations where fight or flight isn’t an option. The stress can build up to a point where you really don’t know what to do and your body is struggling to cope.
I want to share with you a coping strategy that will get rid of all that pent-up stress, dissipate the built-up energy, the anxiety, the stress and any of the associated physical ailments such as high blood pressure, headaches etc. It is quiet simply walking.
Walking for me helps with cope with stressful situations. It helps me cope with anxiety and it helps me to have the time and space I need to figure out solutions to problems. I am not alone in using walking as a coping strategy. A study conducted at a Kansas University found that people who were physically fit were able to cope with stressful situations in their life and also had fewer health issues. While I didn’t need a study to prove it, it is helpful to know that the benefits I am experiencing of walking are true.
Below I have listed the ways in which walking helps with stress, anxiety and depression:
Walking can put you in a meditative state
No matter how long you go for a walk, it can help move you to a calmer state. Have you ever been angry and counted to 10 to calm yourself down? Well it’s the same thing, walking moves your attention away from the anger and the situation that was causing you stress. A study in the UK has found that walking – especially through green spaces – can put your mind in a meditative state. This means you can be reflective without being reactive to the situation that happened. Walking also quiets the mind and you become more aware of your surroundings and how you are feeling.
Fresh air can relieve stress
While studies have shown that spending time outdoors is good for us by relieving stress and improving our memory, you need to experience it yourself to feel how great it is spending time outdoors. It really doesn’t matter what the weather is doing outside, walking really does alleviate your stress levels and boosts your energy and mind. It’s great if you can nip out at lunch for a brisk walk. You really do come back renewed and refreshed and ready to get stuck in.
Walking releases endorphins that relieve stress
Exercise of any kind releases endorphins which boost our mood. Walking is no exception to this. These endorphins are increased when we exercise which make us feel good. This in turn improves our mood, our self-esteem, relieves stress and helps with mild depression. So why wouldn’t you want to walk?
Walking helps with social isolation
When I am out walking I make a point of saying hello to anyone else who is out walking. It’s a great way to get to know people who you see on your regular walks. You could also make it a group activity by involving work colleagues or joining a local walking club. Getting that social support while out walking is great for improving your stress levels but also for building stress resilience too!
Walking increases energy levels
There were days before I started walking that I had very little energy and was very tired after sitting at my desk all day. Of course this also meant an increase in my stress levels. Well walking has improved my energy levels, I also get a great nights sleep because I’m tired from being active. Research studies have also showed that walking can increase your energy levels and you will feel less fatigue. Another study found that a regular 20 minute walk helped cancer patients fight fatigue too as well as a decrease in pain.
Walking can improve your mental alertness
I’ve mentioned in my previous post What are the Benefits of Walking that walking increases the blood flow around your body and brain. Another upside to this is that the blood flow improves your mental alertness. This has a positive effect on decisions you make so can help with mild depression and that feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do it.
Walking can help improve your relationships
I use walking with my teenager as a way to reconnect with him. It gives him the opportunity to chat with me, have my undivided attention and not feel constrained by having the same conversation at home. I also go walking with my husband. It’s a great way to catch up and it helps me get grounded again especially if work or home life has been a bit stressful. Walking with family is the perfect way to spend quality time together, be present and get the space you need to talk through anything that is bothering you. Why not give it a try and let me know how you get on. There really is a joy in walking with family and friends that I find hard to put in to words as I find it so very rewarding.
I have found walking to really help boost my mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that it also helps with mild depression. The act of walking releases the happy endorphins which improves our mood in a lot of ways.
That’s probably why many doctors are now recommending walking for patients suffering from mild depression. Depression happens in your brain and is related to the chemistry so getting your brain to release more endorphins will help mild depression the natural way rather than taking drugs.
Of course it goes without saying that if you suffer from depression, you need to consult your doctor. I highly recommend though that you use the benefits of walking as part of any treatment you may have been prescribed by your doctor. All related to the reasons I’ve listed above.