The Amazing Physical and Mental Benefits of Walking
Walking sounds like an extremely mundane exercise, just putting one foot in front of the other. As the saying goes, though, “big things come in small packages.” Walking is one of the calmest and yet most beneficial forms of exercise. While not everyone is able to “walk,” the same goes for those who use wheelchairs. As long as you’re doing the repeated movement for locomotion, you’ll see the benefits of walking. Beyond its physical pros, walking can also be incredible for mental health. Here are some of these benefits in more detail.
As a general rule of thumb, any kind of exercise can promote general wellbeing. However, like swimming, walking is one of the most gentle and accessible forms of exercise. It depends on your ability, but as long as you’re moving mechanically and have an accessible path, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re walking on your feet or using a wheelchair with your arms.
Walking is very gentle and can be coupled with calming scenery. When you walk for a good amount of time, you’re doing exercise that may not even feel like exercise. For example, if you enjoy hiking and live near a beautiful forest, walking can be an incredible form of exercise. You’re improving your physical state by continuously moving, which releases endorphins like when you run, and you’re definitely improving your mental state by surrounding yourself with beautiful, natural scenery. Overall, as long as you choose a path and destination that makes you feel like it’s not a chore but a treat, going on walks can be a great form of exercise to improve your general wellbeing.
If you’re new to exercise or just have low stamina, walking can improve your physical endurance slowly, but surely. It’s better to approach improving endurance that way, especially if you haven’t done much exercise before. First, you might find it hard to walk a mile or so, for example. However, with a consistent and optimistic approach, you’ll start to notice that it becomes easier and easier to go that distance.
Many people have trouble with exercise because they feel like it’s a drag or a punishment. If you enjoy walking, you’ll look forward to the time you get to spend doing so. You might not even notice all the progress you’re making, because walking will start to feel so natural. If you want to get into other exercises, walking is an easy and effective gateway because it builds a good base for the higher endurance you’ll need for more intense exercises.
Low Injury Risk
The low risk of injury that walking generally has is another positive. This is more a physical benefit in that in the long run, you probably won’t have as many injuries as if you did something like martial arts or tackle football. Unless you’re walking on high, jagged cliffs or through spiny forests, you’ll probably have little to no chance of getting an injury. Walking is low-impact if done correctly (walk heel-toe!), and can be very relaxing.
As proven by countless studies, any form of exercise will release endorphins, whether it’s just from one bout of exercise or more consistently over a longer period of time with consistent exercise. Walking isn’t exempt from this rule, no matter how gentle the exercise may be. When you walk you release chemicals like adrenaline, dopamine, and other chemicals that create feelings of happiness in the brain.
Unlike when you eat your favorite dessert or watch a movie, the feelings aren’t short-lasting. Of course, they’ll go away eventually after you walk or do other exercises, but over time you’ll build up a generally better base level of contentment with consistent exercise. This rule isn’t necessarily foolproof should you have something like severe depression, but it can certainly aid in combating it.
On one side of the mental benefits of walking is its use as a distraction. If you’re having problems in life and need an escape or can’t be alone with your own thoughts, walking is a good band-aid until you can get the help you need otherwise. For example, if you’re depressed or anxious, putting in headphones and listening to your favorite podcast or album while taking a walk can placate your mental turmoil.
If possible, don’t use it as the only salve to your mental health or life problems, as escapism isn’t the best way to do things. It’s best to get proper help. However, exercise is always positive, and can be a good way to tide yourself over until you have the resources or opportunities to get the help that you need. Even if your problems aren’t that serious, it can be a good way to decompress or calm down.
On the flip side of distracting yourself comes meditation. Most people are familiar with the idea of seated meditations, but walking can also provide a meditative state for some. Even in more loose terms, walking is a positive way to do something repetitively. This repetition can lead some to a state of focusing more clearly on their thoughts, which can lead to them working out any problems they may have been considering. What’s equally possible is that the person walking may have thoughts and issues come to light that they never even considered possible, but their subconscious issues start to come to light. Some people say that walking is a form of therapy, and this may be why.
In its more literal sense, to do a walking meditation requires mindfulness. Like a seated mindful meditation, you need to focus on the sensations of walking, breathing, and other processes that normally would seem to be second nature. You let your thoughts fly by without judgment or criticism, and focus on picking your foot up, moving it forward, placing it down, doing the same with the other foot, and taking breaths in and out. For those who want to meditate but feel unable to when sitting down, this can serve as a more active alternative.
Walking is one of the best conduits for releasing tension, both physical and mental. It can improve one’s stamina, their mental state, and prove as a gateway for other exercises. It’s a low-risk and low-impact exercise, but it’s one of the most beneficial ones out there. If you’re just getting into exercise or want to get into walking, you should start today!