I spend a lot of time on my blog, writing about how walking stacks up as an exercise, how we can optimize our walking, and some of the physical health benefits we will see in ourselves by doing so including potential weight loss and reduced risk of digestive problems and diabetes as well as increased heart health. Another important aspect of accepting walking as a great exercise option is that walking is good for mental health as well.
How Common Are Mental Health Problems
The general understanding of mental health used to be rather binary, you either had mental health problems or you were ok. If you were unfortunate enough to be in the former, you could be labeled as crazy and that was it. Fortunately, thanks to the good work of organizations like Mind, it is understood that we all face mental health challenges, and much like our physical health, we may feel below our best from time to time. In this respect, Mental Health is more like an individual spectrum that we move up and down depending on our circumstances.
According to this survey completed in 2016, 1 in 6 people have suffered from common mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, with the total number of people suffering any mental health problems each year is as high as 1 in 4, that means 25% or a quarter of all people in the United Kingdom directly experience mental health problems each year.
What Can We Do
Although the number of mental health cases is staggering, the same research shows, only 1 in 8 of us are receiving treatment for mental health problems and it is usually treated with medication, this would suggest that around half of the people living with mental health problems are left untreated.
If you are suffering from mental health problems, in most cases the best thing you can do is speak to a professional. However, the good news is that there are things you can do to improve your own mental health.
This paper published in 2006, includes walking in its list of aerobic exercises that have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. The article goes on to say “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.” before recommending that all mental health professionals promote a list of benefits from regular exercise including stress relief and an improvement in mood.
I also recently read about a study in Scotland that completed a total of 285k scans on 3371 unique participants and concluded that physical activity had a significant benefit on mental health. While I cannot find the paper to back this up, I am willing to believe it as it fits the narrative being told by many experts.
So the short answer is you should exercise more and when we say exercise, of course, we are looking at the magic of walking.
So What Is The Problem?
When you get stressed or if you have anxiety in the age of Netflix, computer games, and internet enlightenment, it is easy to “veg out”. Unfortunately vegging out is not one of your five a day and it means you are sedentary. The problem is compounded for many as more of us are working from so we are losing those walking opportunities just going to and from work.
The cold and dark winter evenings, kids going mental, and too much to do can also be reasons why we do not take a walk every day.
What Should We Do?
- There is nothing more important than your health so you should set aside time every day to make walking your priority.
- Make your mindset about consistency and progress – walk every day and try to improve something on the day before, more steps, walk faster, take a route with more incline
- Get back on the horse – if you miss a day, a week, or even a month, do not accept failure… get back on it, do it again.
There are very few excuses I will accept for not being able to walk to improve mental health, let’s look at a few.
I have got too much work to do: Nothing is as important as your health, if you set aside time to walk each day, I promise you will find the time to get your work done.
The kids are running a riot: You can take them with you on your walk or leave them with the other parent for a bit. Some people say you can’t pour from an empty cup, I like to use the oxygen mask on an airplane metaphor, “adjust your own mask before helping others” You should always ensure your health is a priority or you could lose the ability to help others.
I live in a concrete jungle, there is nowhere decent to walk: You can literally walk anywhere, if you live in a city there may not be nice views, but there may be parks, nice buildings or you can people watch. The important thing is you are getting out, raising your heart rate, and tackling mental health head-on.
It’s cold/raining/dark outside: If you absolutely must, you can walk on the spot while watching TV, walk up the stairs a bunch of times or walk backward and forwards in the biggest room of the house.
I have no energy: Probably because you don’t do enough exercise, you are only adding to my argument.
Make Walking Your Go-To Mental Health Maintenance.
We now know that mental health problems are extremely common, that exercise helps combat mental health problems, that walking is a good exercise for it, and that I don’t like excuses. So what is next?
The NHS in the UK recommends about 150 minutes of exercise per week, while 10000 steps a day is also a number we regularly hear. At Forty Thousand Footsteps, we take a raising your game approach. Start off with what you are capable of and aim for consistency first and foremost, from there, you can increase your effort every day.
The experts are telling you, you will feel better about it so what are you waiting for?