Stress affects our health, it’s an undisputable fact. In addition to the negative effect on our mental wellbeing, it can have an impact on our body, increasing the risk of heart disease, weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, headaches or diabetes. Fortunately there are various ways we can cope with stress, such as exercising. And one of the best exercises to reduce stress is walking.
Walking is a form of exercise recommended by more and more doctors and physicians. And it’s understandable why. Walking is easy to do, easy on the joints, can be done anywhere and doesn’t require certain physical abilities. Most importantly, this activity, if done on a regular basis, can generate a multitude of health benefits. Among these benefits is the fact that it can help us manage stress.
How Does Walking Alleviate Stress
According to the American Psychological Association, 62% of the adults who exercise or walk to reduce stress labeled the technique as very or extremely efficient. Walking can aid us fight stress in various ways.
When you engage in this type of physical activity, your body isn’t the only one that is getting a workout. Your brain cells are positively affected as well. More precisely, a walk, particularly a brisk one, can boost the blood flow and oxygen to the brain and lead to the release of endorphins. Endorphins are widely known as our bodies’ feel-good chemicals or as the natural antidepressants. These hormones play an active role in alleviating stress, relieving pain and in providing a feeling of relaxation.
Going for a walk can also reduce your cortisol levels, the stress hormone, and loosen muscle tension. At the same time, a stroll will give you the opportunity to simply take a break from everything and ease your mind. Walking at a leisurely pace in a park, becoming mindful of the scenery, the colors, smells and sounds, will do you good and hold off your stressful thoughts.
Nature Walks Are the Most Beneficial
Walking to relieve stress in the outdoors is an excellent idea. But it turns out that walking in a natural environment in particular provides the most benefits. Diverse studies have confirmed this theory over the years.
Work-related stress is something common in our modern era. We’ve all felt it. But is it something unmanageable? Well, according to Japanese scientists from the University of Tsukuba it’s not. Workplace stress can be combated. After analyzing data from more than 6.000 workers, aged between 20 and 60 years, they discovered that the key is walking. And not anywhere, but in a natural environment. Their paper indicated that walking at least once a week in a forest or a green space can improve employees’ abilities to manage stress.
In a different program, Japanese professors from the Kyoto University examined the effects of walking in a forest on 498 healthy individuals. The results showed that going for a stroll in such a green area can have a positive influence especially on those suffering from chronic stress. Researchers noticed a decrease in hostility and depression levels and an increase in liveliness. They concluded that regular walks in the forest can be regarded as therapeutic and used as a reliable stress-reduction method.
A more recent study, conducted by German scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, investigated how urban and natural surroundings affect our mental health. Participants in the trial were required to walk for one hour in an urban area (a crowded shopping street) and for the same amount of time in a natural environment (a forest). The findings revealed that the 60-minute nature walk lowered the activity in stress-related brain regions, while the walk in urban surroundings maintained the activity stable without aggravating it.
A different study, carried out by professors from the Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen, the Netherlands, analyzed the impact of a walk and talk coaching program in nature on mental health. 48 individuals, with burnout- and stress-related complaints, took part in the program. Half of them joined the walk and talk program, while the other half remained in a passive control group. At the end of the trial, participants in the active group manifested more improvements in burnout and stress symptoms and in overall wellbeing than those in the passive group.
Keep Track of your Walking Activity
If you want to make the most of your walks, it’s a good idea to start tracking them. You can easily do this with the aid of a free pedometer app like our own ActivityTracker. The app will automatically record your movement and keep you updated with your hourly, daily, weekly and monthly progress. You’ll be able to see your step count, distance, calories burned or active time, set your own targets and adjust them and share your results with others.
Why keep track of your walks? First of all, because you’ll know exactly how much you’re walking instead of assuming. Second of all, because you’ll be able to monitor your progress and find the motivation to remain active. Moreover, seeing that you’ve achieved your fitness goal will most surely make you feel good about yourself and improve your mental wellbeing.