3 ways walking improves your mental health
Being healthy is like an iceberg. While most people focus on eating well and working out, it is only the beginning. Below the surface, your health needs to be supported by a broad base, including occupational, social, emotional, environmental, spiritual and mental health.
Looking at the mental health piece, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 1 in 4 people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.
It’s projected that between 2020-2030 43% of depression and anxiety will be attributed to physical inactivity.*
Moving your body through something as simple as a daily walk is a powerful self-care tool for improving anxiety and depression.
Here are 3 ways walking improves your mental health:
#1 – Boosts mood and increases self-esteem. Physical activity stimulates the release of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are crucial in regulating mood and emotions, giving you a sense of control and accomplishment. This improved mood and self-esteem can help to mitigate symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders.
#2 – Improves sleep quality. Physical activity increases the time spent in deep sleep when the body repairs and rejuvenates itself. Movement can help to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Maintaining a regular play/exercise routine can help establish a healthy sleep pattern, further benefiting mental health.
#3 – Makes you smarter. As the renowned psychiatrist, Dr. John Ratey, says in my book, “when you use your body, and use it consistently, you’re driving your brain not only to follow the movement patterns and get better (for example, at dance or tai chi or taekwondo or tennis or soccer), but also to get better in all those other ways we use our brain (for example, in reading, learning a new language, doing math). By playing games or getting yourself more fit, you increase your ability to learn, to take in, store, remember, use, and search for information – you get smarter.”**
You know that saying, “Every step counts”? It’s actually spot on.
In a recent study published in Sports Medicine, researchers found that, for more than 28,0000 adults of all ages, every 1,000 daily step increase was associated with a 12 percent lower risk of death from all causes.
These findings held true even after accounting for BMI, alcohol consumption, smoking status, pre-existing health conditions, and step intensity.
According to the scientists, the benefits began at 2,500 steps and continued up to 17,000 steps.
The take-home message: While we’re often told to shoot for 10,000 daily steps, just consistently moving more than you are now can make a meaningful difference over the long run. KEEP IT SIMPLE!
For example, if you’re currently taking 3,000 steps, achieving the 10,000 steps “standard” might sound so unrealistic you don’t even bother to try.
But could you add 1,000 to start? As this research shows, it’s enough to provide a benefit, and you can build from there.
Besides, that’s how lasting change happens: a little at a time. And it can be fun – who doesn’t need a little more joy?
Individuals can improve their mental health and well-being by incorporating a playful walk into their daily routines.
After all, as Hippocrates so famously said, “If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk.”
Your coach and friend,
P.S. Whenever you are ready, here are 3 more ways I can help you improve your health.
** The Play Book: How To Get In The Habit Of Good Health – pg 111
***PMID: 34417979 Jayedi A, Gohari A, Shab-Bidar S. Daily Step Count and All-Cause Mortality: A Dose-Response Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Sports Med. 2022 Jan;52(1):89–99.
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