Science Suggests That Walking Can Help Reduce Your Anxiety
With the global coronavirus pandemic affecting the world (and our personal lives) in different ways, it’s really easy for one to develop anxiety or become uncertain about the future. Kathleen M. McIntyre, LCSW, an instructor in psychiatric social work at Columbia University Medical Center, suggests that “it's a time when we all need healthy habits and practices that can help us cope both physically and psychologically”.
There are so many coping mechanisms you could use during this period, but one of the most effective is: taking a walk. Now, let’s take a look at the benefits of walking (and how often you should engage in it to reap these benefits), according to science.
The New Research
A recent study published in the journal Health Psychology reveals that, exercises like walking, can decrease feelings of anxiety, hostility and depression.
While conducting this study, McIntyre and some other researchers observed 119 healthy (but inactive) adults within the age range of 20-45. The adults were divided into two groups: The first group maintained their normal activity levels, while the second group began a moderate-intensity exercise program which involved walking or jogging on a treadmill, making use of a stair-climber, or riding an immobile bicycle for four days every week. According to McIntyre, the aim of the exercise regimen was to ensure that participants achieve 70-80% of their maximum heart rate for at least 40 minutes, four times every week. This program was allowed to run for 12 weeks.
The adults who took part in the moderate-intensity exercise experienced a drastic drop (up to 39%) in their depression scores (compared to the sedentary group) and also reported a reduction in their hostility and anxiety levels. Even after the active adults stopped exercising for four weeks, they still had lower anxiety, depression and hostility levels, compared to their inactive counterparts.
How It Corresponds With Previous Research
Further studies have also shown identical results. The data obtained reveals that high-intensity exercises greatly influenced the reduction of anxiety levels compared to low-intensity exercises. Also, it was discovered that exercise routines which lasted 30 minutes or more, reduced the levels of anxiety and depression much more than shorter workouts.
Additionally, it has also been proven that walking can be a natural remedy for anxiety. According to a research published in the journal Scientific Report, spending at least 120 minutes outdoor every week can help improve one’s mental health and general well being.
If 40 minutes of exercise (at least four times in a week) could bring such immense health benefits to the research participants, then it’s definitely something to strive for. According to McIntyre, “people who are new to walking can start with 10-minute walks and gradually increase to longer durations. With time, they can choose to go beyond 40 minutes daily and four times weekly, since longer and more frequent walks provide even better results.”
McIntyre adds that “walking does not only release mood-boosting endorphins, but also makes you feel accomplished. It is this feeling of accomplishment that Instantly improves your mood levels, fights anxiety and also increases motivation.”
Finally, if you must go for a walk, ensure you follow the guidelines for social distancing and wear a mask, if necessary.