Easier on the body than running and other more intense physical activity, walking is a great way to be active, explore a new place, get some fresh air and mull over your thoughts. Apart from staying limber and getting you outside, there may be even more holistic wellness benefits to walking—like improvements in sleep as well as mental health. In recent years, quite a bit of research has been conducted that supports the notion that walking offers a low-cost, low-risk solution to some of the most commonly reported health and wellbeing problems.
Sleep And Walking
In October 2019, the journal of the National Sleep Foundation, Sleep Health published a study that tested whether or not walking positively impacted sleep. Participants from the greater Boston area were recruited to engage in a four-week walking intervention between October 2015 and August 2016. Comprised of 59 participants, the study’s group was 75% female with an average age of 49. The primary goal of the walking intervention was to increase each individual’s steps—measured by a Fitbit Zip—over a four week period.
The study ultimately found that daily active minutes were positively correlated with sleep quality but not duration. That meant that when participants increased their physical activity, even with the non-strenuous exercise of walking, they slept more deeply but not for an increased period of time. Interestingly, women saw the best results reporting that with increased activity they had improved sleep. Another notable outcome of the study was that one of the keys for having improved sleep following walking exercise was that the participants needed to do more exercise than normal.
So, because participants saw improvements in sleep when they did more exercise than normal, the study makes a case for incremental exercise. If you are already a regular walker, changing up and increasing your steps on a weekly or monthly basis could support improved sleep. And, if you aren’t already a regular walker, walking offers so many benefits without stressing the body too much. In addition to being a natural way to improve sleep quality, walking also offers other wellness benefits, including therapeutic benefits.
Walking Talking Therapy
Also referred to as movement therapy, walking talking therapy is a kind of counseling in which the counselor and client take a walk together and you guessed it, talk! Not only does this help anxious people connect with a new provider—anxious individuals can feel more comfortable not making eye contact especially when discussing personal matters and walking makes this easier—but it also gets the blood flowing. The idea of moving forward mentally can feel more tangible when you move forward physically. In this article from WebMD, a number of counselors weighed in on the value of walking and talking especially in the context of talk therapy:
“Licensed clinical social worker Carlton Kendrick, EdM, who is based in Cambridge, Mass. got his start using exercise and therapy when working with institutionalized and incarcerated patients in the early 1970s.‘When I got people walking on the grounds, listening to cows mooing and birds singing, having to avoid a rock in the road, engaged in a multi-sensory experience, the result was the patients were much more talkative and relaxed.’”
And he’s not the only one. Other clinicians in the article reinforced the fact that looking forward instead of directly into the eyes of a practitioner can help mental health patients have an easier time opening up. They also cited the fact that walks in picturesque outdoor places have a positive association with vacation and recreation, which can put people more at ease.
But you don’t have to be in therapy to walk for wellness. Walking can have mental health wellness rewards outside of work with a clinician (though walking should not replace the role of therapy or medication). Numerous studies have proven the link between light physical activity and more positive feelings. Exploring a study that looked at middle-aged, female Australians struggling with depression, this Scientific American article purports that regular walking can help ease low mood. While this 2018 study explored in a Bustle article showed “that people who exercised had 43 percent fewer self-reported ‘bad’ mental health days, compared to people who didn’t exercise at all. Though the biggest reduction in bad mental health days were seen for people who participated in team sports, cycling, and aerobic exercise, even people who walked found that their bad mental health days were reduced by over 10 percent.” These studies and others show just how simple it can be to improve your overall well being.
Ways To Bring More Walks Into Your Routine
Here we are over a week into the new year and you might have numerous health, wellness and fitness resolutions in mind for 2020. As you consolidate and solidify some of those goals, it’s important to start small and build up. Often resolutions fall flat if we aim too high or set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Walking makes the perfect wellness activity because it costs nothing, is simple and offers so many priceless mental and physical health benefits.
As you stride into 2020, we’ve thought through some quick ideas for bringing more walks into your daily routine. And while it’s easier and maybe less ambitious than pushing yourself to join a gym or cut your favorite foods out of your diet, it’s still a solid and approachable way to start:
- Do you drive everywhere? If so, try to park farther away and walk.
- Use public transit or walk to work? Take the long way into the office or going home by literally walking a different route or walking to a public transit stop further away from your office.
- Build 15-30 minutes into your morning or evening routine to take a stroll around your neighborhood. If you have kids or a spouse, bring them along and use this time to debrief from your days.
- Instead of going to the movies or to dinner as a social activity, grab a buddy and some snacks and take a scenic walk.
- If the weather near you is getting you down, go to the mall—people walk there too.
- If you don’t feel like the mall offers a pretty enough stroll to motivate you or you feel like the only places you have to walk are boring, jazz up your walk by listening to a podcast or audiobook or by listening to new music. You’ll be racking up stories and steps before you know it!
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