Recent research found that 65% of people walked regularly in Lockdown to improve their mood. Dr Louise Joy-Johnson, Clinical Psychologist at the Priory Group, tells us why walking is so good for our wellbeing.
Priory Group, a provider of mental health care in the UK, surveyed 2,000 people during the coronavirus outbreak to find out what exercise they have been using to boost their mental health.
65% of respondents said that they had been walking regularly to improve their mood.
Walking has become a newly discovered pastime for many during the coronavirus outbreak. With people spending more time in their homes away from their usual day-to-day activities, adding daily walks into their routines has given people the opportunity to get outdoors, get their bodies moving and clear their minds.
Dr Louise Joy-Johnson, clinical psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre in Manchester is pleased to see that people are choosing to take daily walks as it is an effective form of exercise for better mental health. She has outlined the reasons why:
Walking outdoors stimulates the release of neurotransmitters including endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. The release of these brain chemicals triggers a positive feeling in the body and enhances our mood. And, when we experience these positive emotions, it improves our abilities to cope with stress as well as symptoms related to our mental health.
Going for a walk with other people can also boost our feel-good brain chemicals. It gives us a chance to connect with others, express thoughts and feelings and also give emotional support. This helps us to self-soothe, alleviate stress and can also restore the body and mind with a greater sense of wellbeing and resilience.
As we walk and redirect our mental awareness to our bodies and our environment, this helps us to ‘quiet’ the mind and focus on the present moment. It takes our mind off day-to-day problems and brings a sense of calm, which can reduce our heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety.
The coronavirus has created a pressure cooker of heightened anxiety and stress. We have 24/7 access to news related to the pandemic, and are having to adjust to new stressors including loss of income, working from home, home-schooling and living with others in a confined space. Many of the strategies that we normally use to cope with stress and anxiety have not been as readily available as they used to be. When we are walking, we often have the chance to escape from the pressure cooker.
Walking involves bilateral stimulation of the body. As we walk, the repetitive, rhythmic movement of our feet stimulates both the left and right sides of our brain. This stimulation helps to balance the right and left sides of the brain, which is known to help the brain process emotional distress. This decreased physiological arousal can then help us to feel more relaxed, allowing us to ‘clear our heads’ and improve our mood.
Regularly walking not only boosts our mental health at the time of exercise. As well as lifting our spirits in the moment, walking over a period of months can reduce anxiety and improve psychological wellbeing in the long term. It also acts as a protective factor, guarding against symptoms in the future.
Claire - who receives therapeutic support from Dr Louise Joy-Johnson - has been walking regularly during the coronavirus outbreak as she has found it to be an effective way of managing her anxiety:
“When lockdown was announced, my family were concerned that my mental health would suffer. I wasn't upset or particularly anxious about it, other than having the realisation that all my usual coping strategies would change.
“So, I planned in regular walks, aiming for at least 10,000 steps per day. I walk around the local valley, taking in all the beauty of the countryside. The woodlands and the sounds of the river continue to keep me well and free of anxieties, and I am able to think and reconnect to find a great sense of peace.
“In some ways, lockdown has helped me appreciate and take time to enjoy the fresh air as well as the things we so often miss while in our cars.”
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