Walk for brain power, plasticity and resilience.
Walking is an important component of mental health, offering so many ways to boost your mood, outlook and mental well-being. It enhances your mental clarity and provides emotional strength, enriches self-esteem, boosts your immune system, reduces the impact of stress, provides better sleep and more energy, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, trims off inches and pounds and helps with vision.
Movement flushes away stress and anxiety. Walking, especially when done outdoors, provides many healing benefits for people experiencing significant loss or transitions. Physically-active people are about 30 per cent less likely to become depressed, and staying active helps those who are depressed to recover.
Three types of walking to enhance mental health
In Ontario, Canada, Mood Walks is a province-wide initiative that promotes physical activity in nature – or green exercise – to improve both physical and mental health. It’s overseen by the Canadian Mental HealthAssociation, Ontario, in partnership with Hike Ontario and Conservation Ontario. There are Mood Walks programs for university students, post-secondary students, at-risk youth and older adults. Hikes take place in local and regional parks and protected areas, including conservation areas. Look for a similar program near you.
This is an ideal form of exercise for those who want to move while also gaining benefits from psychotherapy. It is growing in popularity as a way to alleviate daily stresses, lessen depression and enhance positive feelings and mental wellbeing. Many therapists offer walk-and-talk therapy. The therapist meets the client in the office, and they walk together alongtrails instead of sitting for an hour and then return to the office. For many people, walking shoulder-to-shoulder – rather than sitting across from a therapist in an office setting – feels like a more natural way to talk about problems.
Walking for mental health and aging
Walking on a regular basis has an impact onmemory loss and other declines in mental function associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease. It helps to keep the brain young. Depression in older people can easily be missed and can affect memory and concentration. Walking as aerobic exercise for older people increases confidence, enhances mood, improves energy levels, reduces anxiety and depression, and improves social life.
This is an excerpt from The Magic of Walking by Susan Sommers. Part memoir and part walking strategies and tools, it follows Sommers’s incredible journey that started in June, 2020, when she decided to virtually walk the 778-km el Camino de Santiago during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sommers has completed two marathons and 10 half-marathons. She is an author and expert in marketing who has spoken at universities and conferences, Lululemon and Running Room retail outlets and fitness retreats.