If you’re in a bad mood go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another one: the mental health benefits are greater than you think.
We’ve been working from home for over a year now and home workouts have become the new norm. Millions get up early to join The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, every morning for some intense sessions. But if squats and burpees just aren’t your style (they’re not mine either) then maybe going for a walk is the activity for you.
The pandemic has caused many of us to become like our dogs as we do nothing but eat, sleep, get over-excited to see people and go on walks – oh so many walks – but walking actually has so many benefits for both your physical and mental health.
1. It Boosts Energy
All this zoom and gloom is exhausting. Many of us hate the idea of yet another zoom meeting, zoom quiz, zoom ANYTHING! But a morning walk before these zooms could be the thing for you. Studies are continually showing that going for a walk in the morning can boost energy levels for the rest of the day, especially when walking outdoors (aka doing laps around your kitchen in the form of a nervous breakdown induced by cabin fever unfortunately doesn’t do you the world of good). One study found that people who walked outside for 20 minutes experienced more vitality than those who walked for the same time inside. I don’t know about you but at the moment I love any excuse to get outside the flat. Cabin fever is a real thing – even on dry land!
2. It Boosts Mood
Walking not only boosts your energy levels, but it also boosts your mood, leaving you feeling more positive. We already know that doing any form of “exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy” (Thank you Elle Woods), so it is almost guaranteed that doing any exercise in the morning will improve your mood for the rest of the day. However, going for a walk is particularly beneficial because it gets us closer to nature. Doing exercise outside can improve self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and lower stress levels which are always welcome when you’re a student.
3. It Increases Focus
In 2016 there was a study conducted by Harvard Medical School that found that 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise before doing a mental task, i.e. a brisk walk, can improve reaction time and sharpen decision making. Therefore, going for a brisk walk in the morning before sitting down for work or another day of studying (insert crying emoji here) could help you get the most out of your day. Who doesn’t love ending the day feeling that you were productive?
4. It Encourages Mindfulness
Instead of spending your morning scrolling on your phone or watching a bit of light TV (I admit I am guilty of both), going for a walk helps centre your mind and allows you to focus on the present. It helps you enter a more mindful state which obviously helps your mental health. By walking, we’re not focusing solely on the task at hand, but we’re also not letting our mind wander to places such as unhelpful thoughts about the future (for me, I personally start overthinking about the most irrelevant situations). Maybe next time you go on a walk turn your phone off and don’t wear headphones (oh the horror). Try to notice things as you walk like the different bird songs, the breeze blowing through the trees or the trickling sound of the river running past.
5. It Simulates a Commute
While commutes are often viewed as a burden, the good thing about them is that they signify the separation between our ‘home’ (chill out zone) lives and our ‘work’ (time to grind zone) lives. This divide is so important as it help us put our minds in a state to focus and work productively and effectively. These divides have blurred or may have entirely been lost when we switched to working from home, so taking a walk in the morning is a great way to reinstate them. Boundaries are always good.
6. It Improves Sleep
I am always looking for ways to improve my sleep and going for a walk is such a simple technique that it can’t do any harm, only good. It was found that people who were exposed to greater amounts of light during the daylight hours – between 8am and noon – fell asleep quicker in the evening and had fewer sleep disturbances compared to those who were not exposed to light. This is because exposure to light – especially in the morning – helps to regulate our circadian rhythm (the body’s natural 24-hour cycle), which means our hormone levels are primed to help us achieve a good night’s sleep.
All in all, starting your day with a short walk can offer a number of health benefits. You may feel more energised throughout the day, your mood and mental clarity may improve, your sleep may be better at night and many other perks. Oh, and one little thing I haven’t mentioned that is most definitely, in my opinion, one of the best things about going on a walk – all the dogs you get to meet!
So excuse me, I’m going to wander where the Wi-Fi is weak to meet some cute dogs and reap the benefits.