We know that walking can burn calories, ward off obesity and reduce the risk of heart disease -- but your afternoon stroll might also have significant stress-relieving benefits, according to numerous studies. With the arrival of spring (and the start of National Stress Awareness Month), April is the perfect time to get active and healthy by jump-starting a new walking routine. You don't need to run for miles to enjoy the stress-busting benefits of exercise -- moderate-paced walking can reduce tension and anxiety, in addition to providing a number of other health benefits.
In honor of the American Heart Association's National Walking Day on April 3, we've compiled a list of the many ways that walking can reduce stress. Whether it's a slow stroll in the park with friends or a brisk power-walk around the neighborhood, make walking a part of your daily routine to reduce tension and promote feelings of calm.
1. It Can Put Your Brain In A Meditative State.
Taking a walk in the part could actually shift your brain into a calmer state, according to recent research. A UK study found that walking through green spaces can put the brain into a meditative state. The act is found to trigger "involuntary attention," meaning that it holds attention while also allowing for reflection. Try following a walking meditation practice in one of your favorite parks to enjoy the health benefits of moderate physical activity while also quieting the mind and increasing awareness.
2. Spending Time Outdoors Reduces Stress.
Here's a good reason to take a walk in the park: Spending time in nature has been linked to stress reduction. A number of studies have found time outdoors to relieve stress, and also improve memory and attention: Even when it's cold, taking a walk outside can improve memory and attention span by up to 20 percent. Walking outdoors has also been shown to improve energy levels. Try walking outside for 20-30 minutes several times per week to alleviate stress and give your mind a boost.
3. Walking Boosts Stress-Busting Endorphins.
Like any other cardiovascular exercise, brisk walking boosts endorphins, which can reduce stress hormones and alleviate mild depression. Regular exercise, through the production of feel-good endorphins, can improve mood and self-esteem, according to WebMD.
4. Walking With Friends Has Even More Stress-Relieving Benefits.
Make your daily walk a group activity for the added stress-relieving benefits of spending time with friends and developing strong social bonds. Social support from friends, family and community members has been shown to improve stress resilience and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Physical contact with a loved one or pet has also been found to lower blood pressure and decrease cortisol.
A walk with friends may be particularly beneficial for adolescents, as social interaction has been shown to decrease stress responsiveness in young people.
5. Walking Boosts Energy And Reduces Fatigue.
More energy and less fatigue? There's something to lower your stress levels. According to a 2008 study, individuals with sedentary lifestyles experienced a significant boost in energy (20 percent) and a 65 percent reduction in fatigue after following exercise programs centered around walking.
Taking regular 20-minute walks has also been found to mitigate fatigue in cancer patients. The patients with moderate to severe fatigue showed a 27 percent decrease in fatigue levels after three months of walking, in addition to a decrease in pain.
Will you be celebrating National Walking Day this year? Tell us in the comments or tweet @HealthyLiving.