This is the single most effective intervention for people plagued with a host of negative stress outcomes. It is also the simplest and most accessible.
The downside is that it is one of those annoying things that we know is good for us but we don’t do it. Or we do it a bit sometimes.
So really the thing itself is no secret at all. What is secret is how damned effective it is. Those who have it as part of their wellbeing arsenal know it well. They rely on it. They are devoted to it. No matter if their day is good or bad, it makes it better.
No drumroll required…yes, it is daily walking or equivalent exercise. But wait! Here’s where I try to let you in on the secret part.
This has little to do with improving your fitness or keeping your weight in check – although they are certainly benefits. It has more to do with the medical research finding that daily walking is as effective as antidepressants, in some respects more so.
Do it and you will be less prone to the negative impacts of stress. Your mood will benefit. You will feel better than you would have felt without it.
It will not solve all your problems but feeling better is guaranteed. In all my years of recommending it, whenever someone does it, it works.
And here’s a taste of why…
Top 10 reasons daily walking helps you master stress
1. The chemical lift
Walking will have a positive effect on your brain chemistry. It is a natural mood lifter.
2. Direct stress reduction
Exercise reduces your levels of stress hormones and counters other stress reactions in your body, for example it eases tension.
3. Better sleep, more energy
Regular physical exertion that gets your heart and lungs going will improve your sleep and energy levels.
4. A body that works better
You will improve mobility, metabolism and digestion. You can’t not feel better. Walking helps stabilise blood sugar levels…and your mood.
5. Less feeling stuck and negative
Staying active and walking daily whether you feel like it or not helps keep a stress-induced overactive right brain in check. High stress levels compromise left brain functions like problem solving and planning, leaving you more exposed to right brain negative emotions and feeling stuck.
In terms of negative thoughts and emotions (including hopelessness) a daily habit of exercise is helpful in prevention and recovery.
6. Awakened senses
Stress relegates you to worrying, rumination or numbness — when you are stressed your limbic system (the part of the brain associated with basic emotions like fear and anger) dominates and it’s difficult to get your pre-frontal cortex (aka the brain’s brain) online. Bring it back online by engaging your senses.
7. Being reminded of nature — life, the universe and everything.
A daily habit of walking is a powerful reminder that there is more to life. There is more to life than what is troubling you right now. And just as important, there is more than just the way you are feeling (or not feeling if numbness is your reaction).
Exercising outside is best because it exposes you to nature, even if it is just some trees or the weather. If you’re in the city the reminder might be more about humanity than nature but that works too.
The effect is one of decentering or detaching a little from the stressful world of our own head, relationships, workplace or online spaces. Get out for a walk and get out of it all.
8. A boost in self-esteem
You will not only feel better for walking daily, you will feel better about yourself. Research has shown a link between increased fitness and self-esteem but I’ve found there’s more to it.
Making regular exercise happen is a significant achievement for most us, with our over-stuffed, rapid-paced lives. It’s almost an act of defiance to drop everything no matter how stressful it may seem, and to take time out to walk. (If you’re suffering from a depressed mood, going for your walk will be even harder to make happen but equally, more beneficial.)
Doing something so positive for yourself, you can’t help but feel good about yourself. And so you should.
9. Retaining control and staying connected
When stress escalates it saps you of a sense of control. You feel like you’re losing your grip on life. Daily exercise provides the traction you need.
No matter what the day throws at you, sticking to your exercise schedule helps you dodge the blow. Or it at least blunts its force.
I’m sure you will be familiar with the fact that stress, and even more so depression, invites you to withdraw — from much of what you love most about life. A habit of exercise thwarts this effect and helps you stay connected. Yes, it’s good for your relationships too.
10. An almost magic catalyst for positive life change
Here’s the final secret about adding daily exercise to your wellbeing armoury.
It takes time and effort to establish the ritual, and probably several false starts. But once you’ve cracked it the rewards will follow, including some that are unexpected.
I’m not overstating it when I say that when people do this they start to do all sorts of other great stuff too. It’s like flicking a switch that has them think, ‘well if I can exercise regularly, I can do this too’.
Anything from quitting bad habits and cleaning up their diets, to skyrocketing their productivity, or rediscovering an old passion like writing, music, painting…their sex life!
Are you in?
Check out How To Walk The Walk below and let me know your thoughts and plans in the comments section at the bottom.