Walking to Improve Mental Health!
Information gathered and prepared by W. Bulthuis MSW, RSW
Clinical Social Worker Portage Medical Family Health Team
More and more, research is showing that walking and other physical activity can help us to deal with stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. Not only is moving good for our physical health, but good for our mental health too.
Stress – We often carry stress in our bodies—tense muscles, back or neck pain, headaches and even tightness in our chest, a pounding pulse and muscle cramps. Worry and discomfort about these can lead to even more stress. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain which help to enhance well-being, and also relaxes muscles and tension in the body. This sends a message to the brain that things are OK.
Depression – Running for 15 minutes per day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%–relieving depression and also preventing relapse.
Anxiety – For anxious people, exercise can induce the physiological experience that is feared (like rapid heart rate) and increase tolerance and comfort with it. As well, exercise releases endorphins which enhance well-being.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other trauma – Exercises that involve cross movement and engage both arms and legs are some of the best choices. You can help your nervous system become unstuck and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response.
Cross movement occurs anytime the left and right sides of our bodies work simultaneously or one side of our body crosses the midline over to the other side. When this happens, the brain is compelled to send signals back and forth from one side to the other. The more times we do this, the stronger these connections become. You are re-integrating your brain and nervous system and reorganizing your mind-body connections!
Try this “Cross-Crawl” – Raise your right knee, reach across your body and touch knee with your left elbow. Raise your left knee, reach across your body and touch knee with right elbow.
Sometimes it is really hard to get started! Here are some tips for you.
Start small – make achievable goals
- Schedule exercise when your energy is highest
- Do activities that you enjoy
- Find a comfortable setting and wear comfortable clothes
- Reward yourself with a bubble bath, good book, favourite TV show
- Make it social – bring a friend
References and more reading