Walk off your stress (featuring the beautiful Canadian landscape)

Walk off your stress (featuring the beautiful Canadian landscape)

Apr 21, 2019

Walk off your stress (featuring the beautiful Canadian landscape)

by Kritleen Bawa

How many times have you heard the phrase, “Take a walk to clear your head”? In today’s blog post, I will talk about what taking a walk to clear the head means to me, how does research supports this claim, and how can you use it in your daily life.

Everyone knows that walking has many benefits for your physical well-being. It is considered a type of mild-moderate physical activity on various international questionnaires used by healthcare professionals and researchers to assess levels of physical activity. Tests such as the 6 minute walk distance tests are also used to assess the physical well-being of patients in the clinical setting. But what does it mean when we say “take a walk to clear the head’? ‘To clear your head’ can roughly be translated to calming yourself down by relieving the build-up of stress and anxiety that you might be feeling. So this phrase is hinting at the psychological benefits of walking, affecting the mental well-being of a person.

When I am feeling very stressed or anxious, I find talking a walk very helpful. Going outside into the nature and enjoying the change of scenery helps me widen my perspective and makes me realize that there are bigger and better things out there. For me, this feeling happens due to the combination of the physical exercise and the psychological calm that I experience when walking outside and I am not the only one experiencing the effect of walking on mood. But what does science has to say about this phenomenon?

Walking has shown to have various effects on the brain. These include improved cognitive functions such as verbal and immediate and delayed recall memory, and reduced risk of cognitive impairment in elderly women. But there is something about taking a walk in the nature that stimulates better mood. Various studies have compared the effects of walking in nature as compared to the urban setting and their effect on mood. Even though both the walks showed a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone in the body, and improved energy levels, walking in nature proved to be better for mood enhancement. This was mediated by the level of connectedness one felt with nature. A positive correlation has also been established between emotional well-being and the time spent doing recreational activities in the nature. This effect was mediated by restorative experiences measured by relaxation and calmness, attention restoration, self-confidence, etc. and not by the perceived duration of the stay or social company.

Several studies established a link between mental well-being and taking nature walks in healthy adults but a subset of studies also investigates the effects of nature walk in a clinical population such as people with major depressive disorder. Both improved cognition and improved mood has been reported in people with MDD when taking a walk in natural versus urban setting. Long-term outdoors walking interventions have also shown clinical decrease in the level of depression severity and improved well-being after the intervention. These results are very similar to the effects seen in the healthy populations hence nature walks may be beneficial for all populations regardless of their mental health status.

Since several studies have established that the exposure to natural environments and not the duration of the exposure relates to the positive mental health effects of nature, it can be said that a small time spent in natural environment can go a long way for all of us. The positive effects of spending time in natural environments, plus the physical and mental benefits of walking combined together can have positive effects on one’s well-being. Walking is a very accessible activity and hence can be easily include in our daily lives as a part of self-care. So if you are feeling anxious or stressed next time, walk to a nearby park or wilderness to take advantage of our beautiful Canadian landscape!

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