I uncovered a major life hack. It is free and it is invigorating. There’s no monthly subscription, no required prescription, and certainly no Zoom invite. Simply open your door and it is there for you. It is walking.
I walked before the pandemic, of course. In fact, I have been walking since I was a one-year-old in a diaper. We all walk; to our car, at home, and to the store. But prior to this pandemic, most of my walking was functional; a means to get to a destination or complete a task. Now, I just walk. For no purpose other than walking. And wow, it feels GOOD! Here are reasons why walking is good for your mental health:
There is no hurdle to jump over, no getting to the gym, no making it to the class on time, simply open your door and begin. Walking is a cardiovascular exercise. It boosts endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that rush through your body and reduce stress and improve your overall mood. In Dr. John Ratey’s book, Spark, he prescribes walking to his patients, instead of medication! The next time you begin to feel overwhelmed or in a slump try going on a walk.
Transition & Boundaries
Going on a walk helps create a boundary between work and home. For many of us, our personal space is also our work space. This makes it difficult to shut off from your daytime responsibilities and transition roles. Prior to the pandemic, one would commute to work thus creating a physical boundary, which prevents burnout. Try faking a commute. Try starting the day and/or ending the day with a 20 minute walking commute to and from work (your home).
Intuitively, we know that fresh air feels good. Being cooped up inside all day can make you tired, sluggish and uninspired. Fresh air pumps more oxygen through the blood, forcing your lungs to work at capacity. More oxygen to your brain means more brain power. More brain power means more energy. The next time you feel that you need to make another cup of coffee or tea, take a walk around the block.
Natural Light: Vitamin D
As humans, we need natural light, a source of vitamin D. Vitamin D cannot penetrate through a window. Going on a walk, even on a cloudy day, means reaping the benefits of vitamin D. Benefits include: improved immune system and nervous system, which are all linked to our overall mental health.
Right now, going on a walk with a friend is the trend. It is a covid friendly activity. Not only do you get all of the other benefits of walking alone, but you also get the benefits of socializing. Social connection makes us feel safe, loved, connected, and improves self-confidence, while reducing stress and anxiety.
Whether you live by a forest or in an urban city, simply seeing green grass, flowers, and trees is healing. Nature reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. It makes you feel more relaxed as it reduces blood pressure, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones. It does not matter where you are.
Simply put, going on a walk is packed with nutritional benefits and will improve your mental health. If you are thinking that walking is boring, try listening to music, a podcast, or making a call to someone (bonus social connection benefit!). It does not matter if it is a 5, 20 or one hour walk. Try it! I am a runner and for me, walking started out boring. It was too slow. Now, I commute by walking to and from work (my home!) and I particularly love walking with a podcast or calling a family or friend to connect. I just slip on my shoes, rain or shine, and off I go. No matter what, I always feel better after.