May 6th, 2020

One small step for man, one giant leap for his mental health

By Dan Whale

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Mindfulness and Stress
  • Panic
  • Other Anxiety Disorders
  • Stress
  • Therapy

We are well aware that exercise is good for our mental health, but we’re not required to run, lift weights or do yoga to get the benefits. A walk around the block can be surprisingly effective in boosting your mood.

Healthy body, healthy mind. It’s a concept that is by no means air tight, but a strong correlation between physical exercise and positive mental health has been shown time and time again.

The lockdown has resulted in a particular focus being put on keeping fit, as people are no longer able to access gyms, play sports or even walk to the bus stop to go to work. This is a positive move, and it has been heartwarming to see the number of gym sessions and dance classes that have been put online for free.

However, these solutions are not always easy to put into practise. Some people, especially those with children, lack the space and/or time to engage in those types of activity. Others may find their internet too unreliable to keep up with any online class. For certain people, that type of athletic activity is just not something they’ve ever felt comfortable with - it’s not something to beat yourself up about.

However, the mental health benefits to be reaped by exercise are not exclusive to the cyclists, marathon runners and yogis. A humble walk around the block on a regular basis (which is still very much allowed under current government guidelines) can give your mental health a real boost for a variety of reasons.

Low-level exercise is still exercise

Exercise is a powerful weapon in your arsenal as it reduces your natural response system and helps break chains of unhelpful repetitive thoughts. It also releases endorphins and serotonin which boost your mood.

Whilst research suggests more strenuous exercise provides the optimum results, these effects can still be achieved through a regular walk. One neuroscientist has even described walking as our ‘overlooked superpower’.

‘Switching off’

Mental wellbeing advocate Alex Pedley created a campaign known as ‘10 minutes matter’. Taking a 10 minute walk without our phone (or at least with the notifications switched off) has been proven to be beneficial for our mental health and make us more productive, allowing us to destress and focus on what is physically around us (a well known mindfulness technique).

We think more creatively

A study at Stanford University examined how we tackled problems when walking compared to being seated. A sample of 175 people showed that walking increased a person’s creative output by an average of 60% when walking - this may allow us to find new approaches to struggles we are having.

The impact of nature

Being closer to nature has been shown to have a calming effect on our minds. A meta-analysis of 10 UK-based studies found that participants who spent more time engaging in green exercise (any activity in the presence of nature, including walking) showed significantly improved self-esteem and mood compared to participants who spent less, or no time, engaging in green exercise (Barton & Pretty, 2010).

This is, of course, more obtainable for some of us than others. However, even if you don’t have a national park on your back doorstep, getting down to the nearest green space you can find and looking at the trees can still have a positive impact.

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Considering the challenges we’re currently tackling, a short walk is not going to alleviate all of our mental health preoccupations. It can, however, give us a little boost when we need it and at testing times, little boosts go a long way.

smiling woman in front of a blue wall

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