Walking to Wellbeing
Walking and being active has a whole range of benefits when it comes to mental wellbeing. Many of us over the past year have taken up walking due to gyms being closed and hospitality and leisure facilities.
Research indicates that walking and being active improves self-perception, self-esteem, mood and sleep quality. Moreover walking also contributes to a reduction in stress, anxiety and fatigue. Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed, and staying active helps those who are depressed recover.
In older people, staying active can improve cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speed whilst also reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Walking and physical activity triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin which are the happy chemicals and can allow us to experience greater contentment, hope, connection, courage and protect you against stress.
Globally people who are physically active are happier and more satisfied with their lives as they have a stronger sense of purpose and experience more gratitude, love, and hope. Individuals who are more physically active and walk regularly feel more connected to their communities, and are less likely to suffer from loneliness or to become depressed.
Neurochemical changes occur in areas of the brain that regulate the stress response, including the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, are rich in receptors for endocannabinoids. When endocannabinoid molecules lock into these receptors, they reduce anxiety and induce a state of contentment. Endocannabinoids also increase dopamine in the brain’s reward system, which further fuels feelings of optimism.
Walking and exercise primes us to connect with others, by increasing the pleasure we gain from being around other people, which can strengthen relationships. Many people use exercise as an opportunity to connect with friends or loved ones. Among married couples, when spouses exercise together, both partners report more closeness later that day, including feeling loved and supported.
Walking and engaging in exercise provides a low-dose jolt to the brain’s reward center that helps you anticipate pleasure, feel motivated, and maintain hope. Over time, regular exercise remodels the reward system, leading to higher circulating levels of dopamine and more available dopamine receptors. In this way, exercise can both relieve depression and expand your capacity for joy.
Courage is another side effect of physical activity on the brain. At the very same time that a new exercise habit is enhancing the reward system, it also increases neural connections among areas of the brain that calm anxiety. Regular physical activity can also modify the default state of the nervous system so that it becomes more balanced and less prone to fight, flight, or fright.
Why not challenge yourself to be more active incrementally and monitor the positive impact it has upon your wellbeing. Start small and be consistent as this creates sustainable benefits.