According to Walking for Health, walking can be beneficial for our mental health. Walking has a positive effect on self-esteem, and more far-reaching effects on sleep, stress and anxiety. It has a protective effect against developing depressive symptoms and lowering symptoms in people suffering from depression.
Scientific American states that walking can help with depression.
being consistently and vigorously active proved most beneficial.
Walking is a low-impact form of exercise and can be easily fit into a daily routine. As a lifestyle choice, walking can be used alongside medication and psychological treatment for mood disorders.
Emotional and Psychological Benefits of Walking
Studies found that walking, whether it’s an intentional form of exercise or not, can trigger a positive emotional response. For example, regular walking can override feelings of boredom and, therefore, lift one’s moods. Walking outdoors is usually preferable, as contact with nature can help release endorphins, the feel-good hormones, and help feel more alert and interested. Features like green spaces and water tend to have a more energising effect. This can be greatly beneficial for mood disorders, where you feel disengaged and unmotivated.
To reap the most benefits from walking, you should aim to walk for at least 30 minutes a day. This routine can also help to lower stress levels and anxiety, inducing a sense of calm. Another beneficial side-effect is an improvement in sleeping patterns, which can be useful for people suffering from insomnia. Studies found that sleep disorders like insomnia can be a precursor to mood disorders like depression. Research on sleep shows that insomnia is a risk factor for depression, and insomnia and depression often go hand in hand. People over 60 years old and women are more likely to develop depressive symptoms if they have been suffering for insomnia over a long period of time. Chronic insomnia may cause feelings of hopelessness and of not being in control.
See also: 10 health benefits of walking.
Walking and Depression
In a study about walking for depression, physical activity such as walking is recommended as a way to alleviate depression, particularly mild depression. The study showed that walking had a positive effect on the symptoms of depression; one of the recommendations from the study for people with mild depression is to join group exercise sessions led by a qualified practitioner lasting between 45 minutes to an hour, three times a week. The beneficial effects of walking can also be increased by taking the exercise outdoors, as mentioned earlier. Harvard Medical School quotes that low-intensity exercise over a period of time can stimulate nerve cells to make new connections (releasing growth factor). In a nutshell, it makes us feel better. Depression can inhibit motivation to exercise, inducing a sense of lethargy and apathy. Just getting up and doing a bit of walking can help to moderately shift the mood. For example, you can start from walking for five minutes a day and build that up gradually to 15-20 minutes a day. This is a life-long commitment and not a treatment lasting for a few weeks.
Walking and Brain Function
While more research is needed into the link between walking and brain function, a study showed that walking can improve mild cognitive impairment (vascular cognitive impairment or vascular dementia). The study found that regular walking for three hours a week helped to improve reaction time in cognitive tests and brain function in the participants. Exercise can improve cerebrovascular health, i.e., the health of blood vessels in the brain. Blood flow in the brain can be compromised by physical disorders such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Walking acts on reducing blood pressure, which in return can improve cognitive function.
Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Walden University looked at how exercise has positive effects on mental health. In particular, exercise can improve cognitive function and memory, in other words, mental performance. Exercise can also help to feel more positive and look at the bright side of things. Finally, exercise can help to counteract weight gain from taking medication and lower the risk of heart disease also associated with some types of medication, particularly antidepressants.
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