We know that walking can burn calories, ward off obesity and reduce the risk of heart disease — but your evening stroll comes with a ton of more benefits.
Studies have proven that walking might also have significant stress-relieving benefits. And I do know that first hand!
I walk for 60-90 minutes, 6 days a week. While I agree that it contributes a lot to my fitness, honestly saying; staying fit and in shape is not the ONLY reason I try to never miss my walk.
You don’t need to run for miles to enjoy the stress-busting benefits of exercise. Moderate-paced walking can reduce tension and anxiety, in addition to providing a number of other health benefits.
Personally, I find that besides physical health, walking everyday also contributes greatly to my mental and emotional health.
I’ve always found it rather hard to engage in other forms of every day exercise. Be it playing a sport, jogging or gymming, I find that activities that require me to put in ‘special’ effort are simply not a sustainable way to get exercise. I will find new innovative reasons to not drive down to the gym, weather related issues with playing a sport religiously, and new pains to complain about every week whenever I have tried to take up jogging for a brief period of time.
After months of trying to figure out how to add exercise to the equation, it finally dawned on me to simply put on my sneakers, step outside my front door, and take a walk. After all, walking is free, it doesn’t require special equipment, and it’s an activity that even an overweight, uncoordinated, not-too-crazy-about-fitness-gal can perform without injury.
In all earnestness, I love to walk because it gives me time and space to just relax and unwind. I don’t see it as a chore it my daily routine; rather I see it as the highlight of my day because it’s become more of a leisure activity.
So, without further dilly-dallying here are the 5 top reasons I love to walk!
1. Reconnect With Yourself
At the end of a long day, a good walk can help you unwind mentally and physically so you can more readily connect with your inner self. Whether you are like me and work from home — spending a good chunk of your day stuck in front of the computer while also multi-tasking household chores on the side, or you have a full-time 9 to 6 job, working long hours takes its toll on you. The time I spend walking is my ‘ME’ time. I often return home to find my husband is back from work and then we chat over a cup of tea, play with our dog and watch TV — all of which become ‘family’ activities.
When my husband joins me for walks, it becomes a mini date night. As we brisk walk and talk while our German Shepherd runs in front of and alongside us, we marvel at what a wonderful life we created together. Life is good. And my daily walk is the time I feel happy thoughts the most.
2. Nature Is A Great Medicine
While an air-conditioned office/home in summers and a centrally heated one in winters is all nice and great to keep you comfortable through the day no matter the weather condition outdoors, there is nothing as refreshing as walking outdoors. There honestly is something magical about the outdoor air — you forget all your tiredness and sluggishness as you can watch the trees dance in the breeze and the gravel crunch beneath your feet. It’s all scientifically proven too, trust me! Fresh air provides the body with an abundance of oxygen that promotes healing and mental clarity. Sunlight provides your body with much needed vitamin D, and stimulates production of endorphins and other brain chemicals that relieve depression and improve moods. Spending time in nature has also been linked to stress reduction. A number of studies have found time outdoors to relieve stress, and also improve memory and attention.
Make an effort to get outside daily, no matter the season or weather. If it’s cold out, take a quick lap around the block in the sun. On nicer days, take a brisk walk to a nearby park, store or library. Moving around outdoors is a great way burn off stress and excess energy so that you forget all your work related worries and sleep better at night.
3. Enjoy A Little Entertainment
Most of us cannot manage to have social plans every day of the week. You can’t exactly have dinner with your parents, or hang out with your friends, or go out for a movie every single day. And that usually means – no source of entertainment. Besides the Idiot Box or browsing the internet, of course. However, there’s nothing like watching the neighborhood kid’s splash around in the sprinklers that can make you forget about how boring and stressful weekdays can be, and make you feel that all is right in the world. It’s entertaining to see the world go by and it comes free of charge!
Recently, I have also encouraged a friend to join me on my walk. And believe me, the time just flies by as we gossip and talk about our dreams. Make your daily walk a group activity for the added stress-relieving benefits of spending time with friends and developing strong social bonds. Social support from friends, family and community members can improve stress resilience and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Physical contact with a loved one or pet has also been found to lower blood pressure and decrease cortisol.
4. Stay Connected To The Community
For all of the communication streams we have at our fingertips, many of us feel more disconnected than ever. Online relationships, no matter how valuable, can’t replace face-to-face interaction. On the days I just cannot manage a walk, I feel claustrophobic in my own home. Kind of like — I have no clue what’s happening in the outside world because I have had no human contact all day long. I can’t wait for my husband to get home and then tell me all about his exciting day at work, because nothing even remotely exciting happened in mine.
Honestly, I feel like I’m more connected to the world when I step out of the house for a walk. It’s always nice to know what’s happening around your neighbourhood – yoga classes being offered at the community centre when I walk by it, or noticing a new stall outside the shopping complex selling junk jewellery and cheap t-shirts, or discovering a mini-bake sale that works more like a first-come-first-serve basis (Those days are the best!). Walking around your neighborhood and interacting with neighbors reduces isolation and gives you a true sense of community. You are not alone. Just nodding a quick ‘Hello’ to fellow-walkers, or stopping to greet an elderly neighbor and check on their health feels great.
5. Get Out Of A Rut
Carving out time for daily walks means you also take a healthy step towards breaking bad habits. In my case, it was sitting and fussing about next day’s assignments and meetings. I also used to indulge excessively in smartphone and computer use, and there was a time I was hooked to online shopping because it was such a convenient way to do (and have!) something new every day. Every hour spent outside is an hour when you’re not overeating, overthinking, overspending, or obsessing over career analytics.
What’s better, taking a walk in the park can actually shift your brain into a calmer state, according to recent research, as it can put the brain into a meditative state. The act is found to trigger “involuntary attention,” meaning that it holds attention while also allowing for reflection. It’s pretty cool actually, giving you health benefits of moderate physical activity while also quieting the mind and increasing awareness.
Whether it’s a slow stroll in the park with friends or a brisk power-walk around the neighborhood, make walking a part of your daily routine to reduce tension and promote feelings of calm. It can even be a brilliant way to take better care of your yourself in this New Year! Good Luck!