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  • Writer's pictureLarissa Velasco

The Mental Health Benefits of Going for Walks

Walking has been a catalyst for mental clarity and philosophical thought since ancient times. The Peripatetics, a school of philosophy founded by Aristotle in Ancient Greece, used to engage in 'peripatoi' or 'reflecting while walking,' going through the pathways of the Lyceum while delving into life's profound questions. This practice emphasized the belief in the interconnection between the body's motion and the mind's activity, a concept that still holds true today. Walking is considered immensely beneficial for mental well-being and has been shown to have profound effects on the mind, extending beyond physical well-being. In today's fast-paced world, taking a simple stroll outside can be a powerful remedy for maintaining and improving mental health.

The Physiology of Walking

Walking is a natural and rhythmic activity that engages both the body and mind. It stimulates the release of various neurotransmitters and hormones, including endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. These chemicals play a crucial role in mood regulation and are often referred to as "feel-good" neurotransmitters.

Regular physical activity, particularly movement that's as accessible and gentle as walking, is a key factor in healthy aging. As we age, our bodies naturally begin to lose muscle mass and bone density, and our metabolism slows down. However, by maintaining a consistent walking routine, we can combat these effects. Walking helps to preserve muscle strength and endurance, supports joint health, and encourages a more active lifestyle. Importantly, it also fosters cardiovascular health, which is critical as we grow older. Furthermore, walking can contribute to better balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls, which is a common concern among older adults.

 The Psychological Impact of Nature

Walking outdoors, especially in natural settings, enhances the mental health benefits, as we have already discussed here. The concept of ecotherapy suggests that connecting with nature has a positive impact on mental well-being, reducing stress and promoting a sense of calm and tranquility.

 Practical Tips for Making Walking a Mental Health Practice

 Step 1: Incorporate Walking into Your Routine

Make walking a regular part of your daily or weekly routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week to experience optimal mental health benefits.

 Step 2: Choose a Scenic Route

Whenever possible, choose to engage in walking activities in serene natural settings such as lush parks, scenic nature trails, or the tranquil shoreline of the beach. By immersing yourself in the harmonious blend of physical activity and the soothing embrace of nature, you can amplify the positive impact on your mental well-being, fostering a deep sense of tranquility and rejuvenation.

 Step 3: Practice Mindful Walking

Enhance your walking experience by combining it with mindfulness. Take the time to fully engage with your surroundings, noticing the vibrant colors, soothing sounds, and gentle breeze.

Pay attention to your breath as you walk; feel the rhythm of your breath synchronizing with your steps. Tune in to the sensations in your body, like the gentle sway of your arms and the steady rhythm of your heartbeat. In order to do this, you can slow your pace and notice the pressure you feel in your feet as you walk. Pay attention to how the weight shifts and moves to each area of your feet. This might seem like a different kind of exercise, but it can help you cultivate a deeper relationship with yourself and your environment.

 Step 4: Walk with Purpose

When you set intentions for your walks, you create a deeper connection with yourself and the world around you. Whether it's to clear your mind and let go of daily stresses, to unleash your creativity and brainstorm new ideas, or simply to savor the rejuvenating power of fresh air, having a purpose can transform your walks into moments of self-discovery and fulfillment. Enjoy this opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature, engage your senses, and find inspiration in the simplest of things along your path.

 Step 5: Make it Social

Invite friends or family members to join you on your walks. Sharing the experience can deepen social connections and provide emotional support.

 Step 6: Explore Different Walking Activities

To keep your walks interesting, consider adding variety to your routine. Explore different activities like hiking through scenic trails, power walking to increase intensity, or even incorporate intervals of jogging to elevate the cardiovascular element.

For those who are into running, there is a wide selection of tracking apps available that can help monitor your progression. These apps not only track your distance, pace, and calories burned, but they also offer motivating challenges, virtual races, and communities of runners to join. By leveraging the power of technology, you can set personal goals, see improvements over time, and stay motivated in your journey to better health and fitness.

 Step 7: Track Your Progress

Keeping a journal or using a fitness app to track your progress can be deeply motivating and rewarding. As you record the distance walked, time spent, or even your mood before and after each session, you'll be able to see tangible evidence of improvement. This visual representation of advancement not only serves as a personal benchmark, but it also reinforces the habit, encourages consistency, and can stimulate the setting of new, more challenging goals.

Consider utilizing a fitness tracker or a mobile app like Fitbit or Strava to monitor your walking progress. These tools can help you keep track of your steps, set goals, and provide you with real-time feedback on your achievements. You can also join walking challenges or connect with friends to add a social aspect to your walking routine. Monitoring your progress and reaching milestones can be highly motivating and give you a sense of accomplishment. So why not give it a try and take your walking routine to the next level?

 Overcoming Common Challenges

 1. Finding Time:

  • To incorporate walking into your daily activities, you can consider various options. For instance, you can choose to walk to work instead of driving or taking public transportation. Additionally, taking short breaks during the day to go for a quick walk can help refresh your mind and boost your energy levels. Another idea is to schedule walks during lunchtime, allowing you to enjoy some fresh air and stretch your legs. By adding these simple yet effective habits to your routine, you can easily make walking a regular part of your day.

 2. Weather Concerns:

  • Develop a contingency plan for inclement weather, such as indoor walking paths, shopping malls, or at-home workout videos. Assessing your needs on less-than-perfect days is essential; if the weather is a barrier, finding an alternative can maintain the consistency of your walking routine, but also be kind to yourself to know when you need to change plans, as we can't control everything.

3. Lack of Motivation:

  • We might not have the same energy and motivation every day, but we can use music to create the mood to go out and enjoy our day, creating a customized walking playlist filled with energizing and upbeat songs may keep you motivated and in the groove. Another option is to listen to podcasts, TED talks and audiobooks that inspire and uplift you while you walk. Additionally, you can consider joining walking groups or clubs in your community, where you can connect with like-minded individuals and share your walking journey together. These strategies can provide extra support and accountability, making your walking experience even more enjoyable and rewarding.

 4. Busy Schedule:

  • If time is a constraint, consider breaking your walks into shorter sessions throughout the day. Even taking a few minutes to stroll can have a positive impact on your mental well-being, allowing you to clear your mind, rejuvenate, and reconnect with nature. Do not underestimate the profound impact that even short walks can have on your overall well-being. Additionally, take a moment to reflect on whether you truly lack the time or if you are allocating your free hours to other activities because often, we overlook the significant amount of time we spend online, and getting off-screen time is also very beneficial.

In the pursuit of mental health, the simplicity of walking stands out as a powerful and accessible tool. The physical and psychological benefits, coupled with the ease of incorporating walking into daily life, make it a valuable practice for individuals of all ages and fitness levels. By making walking a conscious and intentional part of your routine, you can harness its potential to reduce stress, elevate mood, and enhance overall mental well-being.

So, lace up your sneakers, step outside, and embrace the transformative power of a simple walk. Whether you choose to stroll through a park, along a beach, or through the city streets, each step you take is a stride toward better mental health. Let walking become not just an exercise for your body but a therapeutic journey for your mind.

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