A Priory Group survey found walking to be our favorite form of exercise for a mental health boost. Clinical psychologist Dr Louise Joy-Johnson explains how daily walks can benefit our mental health and how getting outdoors can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms
Priory Group, a provider of mental health care in the UK, surveyed 2000 people to find out what form of exercise they do to boost their mental health. 65% of respondents said that they walk regularly to improve their mood. Dancing and cycling came in joint second place with 23% respectively.
Walking releases our feel-good brain chemicals
Walking outdoors stimulates the release of neurotransmitters including endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. These trigger a positive feeling in the body and enhance our mood. When we experience these positive emotions, it improves our abilities to cope with stress as well as symptoms related to our mental health.
Walking as a social activity can relieve improve mental health
Going for a walk with other people and making it a social activity can also boost your feel-good brain chemicals. It gives you a chance to connect with others, express thoughts and feelings and also give emotional support. This helps us to self-soothe, alleviate stress and can also restore the body and mind with a greater sense of wellbeing and resilience.
It allows us escape our everyday problems
When we are walking, we often have the chance to escape our usual settings for a more serene and multisensory environment – with aesthetically calming sights, smells of crushed plant oils and the taste and feel of fresh air.
This ‘grounding’ experience, where we redirect our mental awareness to our bodies and our environment helps us to ‘quiet’ the mind and focus on the present moment. It takes our mind off day-to-day problems and brings a sense of calm, which can reduce our heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety.
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The repetitive, rhythmic movement relaxes us
Walking involves bilateral stimulation of the body. The repetitive, rhythmic movement stimulates both the left and right sides of our brain. Such stimulation is known to help the brain process emotional distress. This decreased physiological arousal can cause us to feel more relaxed, helping us to ‘clear our heads’ and improve our mood.
Walking benefits our long-term mental health
Regularly walking over a period of months can reduce anxiety and improve psychological wellbeing in the long term. It not only boosts your mental health at the time of exercise but also acts as a protective factor, guarding against symptoms in the future.
Source: The Priory Group