A Journey to Mental Wellness Includes Walking
Walking is a part of everyday life. It keeps us healthy physically, but it also plays an important role in our mental wellness. Learn why walking more is important and how to keep your mind healthy, daily.
Imagine a quiet walking trail lined with trees full of vibrant autumn leaves. A trickling creek winds next to the trail and a deer stands by the edge of the water. On the trail are two people, walking and talking. One is a clinical social worker, and the other is a teenager who is talking about his struggles with anxiety and depression. The teen speaks openly and fluidly about pressure at school, family issues, and relationships. The therapist uses her expertise to support her client and work on coping skills.
Nature, walking, and therapy are a winning combination for leading patients on a journey to healing. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year.
It is a struggle every day for people with mental illness to function and move through life easily. People who identify with having a mental illness are more likely to succeed in life with the support of a therapist.
Walking improves mood, leads to a better body image, and assists with sleep and memory.
“There is mounting evidence that contact with nature has significant positive impacts on mental health,” said Mardie Townsend PhD, an honorary professor at Deakin University in Australia. She believes the growing disconnection with our natural environment is exacerbating the escalating rates of mental illness and that mental health professionals should be prescribing time in nature as often as possible, as well as advocating on the policy level to help ensure access to green spaces for everyone.
Three Reasons to Walk More
- Taking a walk is an opportunity to reconnect with nature. Being in nature can often evoke positive memories from childhood, playfulness, and a time of innocence. Nature allows you to bring those connections to your current life.
- Walking and exercising improves your ability to be present. Notice your surroundings, look at the little things, and the beautiful parts of nature. Nature can connect you with a sense of spirituality.
- Walking improves your self-esteem. You feel better about your body, and your mind has a chance to clear the cobwebs. You have a chance to find what you need for yourself and to listen to your own honest thoughts.
Incorporating a Walk into Your Daily Routine
Every night take a minute to look at your schedule for the next day. Schedule 15 minutes to get out and walk. Pack up your walking shoes and any gear (ie hats, gloves, water bottle) that you’ll need to bring along.
Be reasonable in your expectations
You may want to plan to walk for 15 minutes. Perhaps you will end up walking longer, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Meet up with a friend, co-worker, or neighbor. If you don’t have anyone to walk with, then text a friend saying that you plan on walking at lunch. After your lunch walk, report back to the friend to say that you’ve accomplished your walk.
Set the tone
What do you want from this time? Do you want to walk in quiet, to pay attention to the moment and your flowing thoughts? Would you rather bring along music or a podcast, or is this a time to get to know your walking partner? You decide!
Start Your Journey
Remember: It’s important to take care of yourself, mentally and physically. No one is going to prioritize your health and wellness for you. If you’re not sure where to start, make a conscious choice to walk more and spend time in nature, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day. It will make a difference in your life.