How Increasing Your Step Count Can Improve Your Mental Health

Walking is one of the most underrated forms of physical activity. It is an activity that can be done anywhere. Walking can reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. But did you know that it can also improve your mental health? It has been proven that walking can reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms. Exercises like walking can improve a person’s mental health by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. This is caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain and by an influence of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This physiologic influence is mediated by the communication of the HPA axis with regions of the brain, including the limbic system. The limbic system is a structure located in the brain responsible for a variety of emotional responses. The overall health benefits from walking include improved sleep, increased interest in sex, better endurance, stress relief, improvement in mood, increased energy and stamina, reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness, Weight reduction and reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness. It has been documented that thirty minutes of walking at a moderate intensity is sufficient for these health benefits. We will be reviewing three ways you can increase your step count to help improve your mental health. 

Park Further Away/ Plan To Incorporate Walking In Your Travel Time. 

Depending on where you live this may or may not take just a little more intentionality when it comes to structuring your day. For those of you that commute via car to your work, or even to do errands during your week it may be good idea to park a block or two away from your workplace, or park a couple parking places away from the entrance of where you’re doing your errands, this will aid in incorporating more steps in your day. For those who use public transportation to get to and from work (or again to do necessary errands) it may be best to get off a stop earlier to incorporate more steps throughout the day. Now this may require you waking up (or going to sleep) a bit earlier in order to make the new route more compatible to your daily routine. It may take a bit of sacrifice, (of course for some more than others) but it will be worth it! 

Walk Around Your Home In Between Meetings 

We’re now in a time where working remotely has become more embedded in our culture. Due to this slight culture change you can often feel glued and or obligated to the screen or tasks set before you on a work day. Furthermore you may subject yourself to a pattern of thinking that suggests that because you’re in the comfort

of your home, taking breaks becomes a secondary priority. But May I suggest that just as it’s an important work boundary to take scheduled breaks if you were in the office, that same work boundary should apply while you’re working virtually. If you have time in between meetings or holes in your schedule, you should commit to walking around your household ( if you don’t have the luxury of going outside to do so). Believe it or not, even in those five to ten minutes that you walk around to get water, or even getting something quick to snack on, gives your body the opportunity to participate in the necessary blood circulation processes to function properly that were mentioned earlier. 

Schedule A Morning, Afternoon or Evening Walk 

Though it might not be easy, it may be time to think about taking the bold step of blocking out some actual time in your day for a stroll. Now this stroll can vary depending on when you function best during the day. For my morning people it may be best to wake up a bit earlier to ensure a morning stroll is incorporated for your day. Mid-day folks it may do some good to block out time in between meetings to get some fresh air, or walks around the living quarters for those that work from home. If your workplace gives room and space for slightly more elongated lunch breaks, take that time to get your steps in, travel out a little bit ( if weather permits) to go eat your prepared or bought lunch. If your workplace ( or neighborhood) has scenery, try making the choice to be intentional about making that time to take some of it in. For the night owls it may help on the way home, or even after you’ve had dinner to schedule an evening stroll. Now it’s important to note you don’t have to make any of these choices alone, you can encourage others ( family, friends, pets) to join you in taking steps in the right direction to improve one’s overall well being.

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