I came across a blog post the other day that argued for the benefits of a regular walking practice for folks struggling with anxiousness, stress, and mild depression (and I would add to that: problem-solving, creative blocks, and emotional overload). The following is a selected piece of that argument. A link to the site is provided at the end if you want to read more. Interestingly, it is part of a series on “The Art of Manliness”.
Going for a walk is a highly effective way to reduce your stress, depression, and anxiety. Like any form of exercise, walking releases endorphins which give pleasure to your brain and reduce your stress hormones, but unlike other forms of exercise, you can do it anywhere, anytime. A brisk 20- to 30-minute walk can have the same calming effect as a mild tranquilizer, and walking daily for a half-hour has been shown to quickly relieve major depression.
Walking has also been shown to clear the mind and refresh the senses. It’s a form of “meditation in action” which can rejuvenate your “brain fatigue.” Research has shown that reaching this meditative state through walking is made much easier when you take your stroll in nature, or even simply a small green space within a city.
The mechanism at work here is a psychological phenomenon called “involuntary attention.” As opposed to the frenetic cityscape, which grabs our attention in an exhausting way, natural surroundings engage the brain, but do it an effortless manner that still allows space for reflection. In this calm state, the knot of worries that have been tangling up from our day-to-day lives can more easily be unraveled and released.
Focusing on deeper meditation as you walk by centering your thoughts only on the present – concentrating on the movements of your body or counting your steps – can also help you tame your “monkey mind” which begets anxiety in its constant need to flit from one thing to another.
Finally, walking’s rejuvenating power may be located in the opportunity it provides for much needed solitude. Our two feet provide the opportunity to leave behind the crowd and the noise of the world at a moment’s notice, and regain our solitary independence.