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  • amynighbert

Take a Hike: 5 ways walking can improve your mental and emotional health

We all know in theory that walking is good for us, but we may not understand exactly why and how. Here are 5 ways that walking improves our emotional and mental well-being, regardless of the time, distance, or speed.

  1. Walking reduces stress. This may seem like an obvious observation, but how does it really work? Regardless of the pace, walking stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the brain chemicals that relax us and improve our mood. Walking also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. So when we walk, we trigger a physical reaction that affects our mental state. And when we’re in a better mental state, this allows us to process the wide range of emotions that are part of the human experience. Here’s an example: Have you ever been so mad that you just had to take a walk to blow off steam? You might have started by almost marching around the block, you are so emotionally charged, but then notice that your pace begins to slow, your step lightens, you might even have a good cry. But when you get back, you feel better, your head is more clear, and you feel better equipped to handle the situation that drove you outside? This is the trifecta of changing your brain state physically, mentally, and emotionally. That’s the power of walking.

2. Walking can relieve social anxiety. Have you ever been on a walk with a friend and found that you felt freer to share intimate thoughts and feelings that you wouldn’t ordinarily share from fear of judgment or being misunderstood, mischaracterized? Walking beside someone offers that emotional connection WITHOUT the eye contact that is often the barrier to sharing thoughts and feelings. Eye contact is a non-verbal cue that we all use to filter information as we communicate with others, and though we do it largely unconsciously, it’s a powerful tool our brains use to make decisions on how and what we think and feel about what we’re hearing and we’re communicating. When we remove that cue, it allows us to feel more open to share. This is also why professional “walk therapy” can be so beneficial. Again, that’s the power of walking.

3. Walking can help improve your self-confidence and body image. Walking promotes the release of serotonin, the chemical that improves our mood and is related to the feeling of confidence. It goes without saying that high self-esteem is an instrumental part to emotional health. Women who have self-confidence are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, or negative health behaviors. People with self-confidence are emotionally healthy, more adaptable to stress, more motivated, and persistent in achieving personal goals. When we feel good about ourselves, we take better care of ourselves. When we have high self-esteem, we feel comfortable, or even confident, about our bodies. When we’re self-confident, we use our inner resources to overcome obstacles. Walking, for most, is an easy way to practice self-care, and when we practice self-care, we feel more emotionally stable. So self-care leads to self-confidence which leads to better body image which leads to increased emotional and mental well-being. That’s the power of walking.

4. Walking allows us to be present and grateful. Have you ever been on a walk that, in the end, you didn’t feel like you were in a better headspace than when you started? The answer is overwhelmingly no. When we walk, no matter what is on our mind, the release of those chemicals and hormones help us relax and feel more grounded. It allows us the opportunity to refocus our thoughts and just be present. We’re able to use our senses to take in the sights, the smells, what we hear, and what we feel. The trees, the birds chirping, the breeze blowing, the smell of rain, the color of flowers, it connects us back to ourselves, our core values, and our world. And when we feel this connection, it can naturally create feelings of gratitude. The ability to feel present and grateful increases our emotional health and mental well-being. The power of walking.

*Bonus points for meditating when walking. One small study shows that walking while meditating has an even greatest impact of mood and elicits thoughts of gratitude. Something as simple as counting “one, two three” allows our conscious mind to focus on our steps which opens our unconscious mind to problem solve.

5. Walking increases connection. Connection is a fundamental attribute of an emotionally stable person. In the times that we are living, if you see the horrific news almost daily of man’s inhumanity against man, you see the catastrophic results of people who lack connection. There are so many ways we can experience connection through walking. If we are walking with a partner, we’re experiencing connection with someone we care for. We are also connecting with our world as we use our senses to soak in what we see, hear, smell, and feel. If you’re walking solo and listening to music, you’re connecting to the melody and the lyrics. If you’re listening to a book or a podcast, you’re connecting to another voice with new thoughts and ideas. If you’re practicing mindful walking, you’re connecting to your own thoughts, feelings, and ideas. The shortest of walks increases connection which is vital to good mental and emotional health. The power of walking.

One final note on walking... Bonus points for bringing the kids along for the walk or leashing up the pups for a walk. Walks improve the emotional health of our children and pets too!

So, if you haven’t been getting in some steps regularly, I hope that you’ll rethink your strategy, because walking isn’t just about improving fitness. It’s A LOT more than that. If you need help getting motivated to walk, need help creating a strategy to make walking part of your life’s routine, let’s talk. Book a session HERE and let’s chat about how we can work together to improve your emotional health through walking or through some coaching.

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