If you're looking for a productive, yet low-effort way to spend an afternoon, here's your answer: Go for a walk outside! The benefits are far and wide; a simple stroll can work wonders on your mental health, physical health, and emotional wellbeing.
If you're not someone who has the luxury of a lot of free time, you might try to fit in a short walk on your lunch break or get off the train a few stops early to relax on the walk home. There is some evidence that the best time to go for your walk is right after you eat; but really any time is better than no walk at all.
You can fill your time walking by listening to a podcast or listening to music. Some people prefer walking in silence because it allows for time to let thoughts wander and can inspire creative thinking. Getting into the habit of walking has all kinds of benefits you hadn't thought of - here are a few of the most significant ones.
Keeping stress at a minimum can be a challenge, especially when tensions are running high. "We all seem to be obsessed with the 'mental overload' of modern living, but we don't know how to reduce it. We're saying yes too often, taking on too much, and then thinking about everything too deeply," said Sarah Ivens, author of "Forest Therapy: Seasonal Ways to Embrace Nature for a Happier You." "The good news is that research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows that being exposed to restorative environments such as a forest, lake or beach restores mental energy, and that natural beauty inspires feelings of awe which gives a secondary brain boost." Ivens recommends spending time looking at plants, birds, or other aspects of the living world to help rejuvenate the mind after an overwhelming day.
Makes you happier
Spending time outdoors has one great, big benefit: sunlight. Time spent beneath the sun can give you more than just a tan. It also results in higher levels of vitamin D, a crucial nutrient that many people don't get enough of. Vitamin D deficiencies can cause dips in your mood and contribute to depressive symptoms; when you get more of the sun's rays, you're boosting your mood and your health. The science supports the link between happiness and outdoor walking, as well. "A study in Environmental Science and Technology found a link between decreased anxiety and bad moods with walks in the woods, while another reported that taking a walk outdoors should be prescribed by doctors as a supplement to existing treatments for depressive disorders," said Ivens.
Lowers your risk of depression
In addition to the happiness you get from the extra vitamin D, getting your legs moving can give you the many benefits of exercise - one of which is staving off depression. A review of 25 studies from the University of Toronto shows that exercise can not only help people with depression to manage their symptoms, but can actually prevent depression as well. Of course, exercise is no substitute for medication; but taking a walk can certainly help!
Keeps your heart healthy
In addition to a heart-healthy diet, exercise is crucial for warding off heart disease. It doesn't take much - just getting your body moving for 30 minutes five days a week can make a difference, according to the American Heart Association. Make your walks at least that long and you'll feel the benefits.
Improves your brain functioning
Feeling a little foggy? Taking a walk outside may help. Studies show a direct link between regular walking regimens and improved brain function. If you're studying for a big exam or have trouble concentrating at work, you might consider taking 20 to 30 minutes of your day to go for a stroll.
In addition to helping your brain function better now, walking can help preserve your brain health later. Studies show that walking regularly can help to stave off Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. That's why doctors recommend regular exercise when it comes to brain health - it can really work to stop the progression of this deadly disease.
Keeps you energized
Exercise of any kind - yes, even light walking - releases endorphins. These chemicals not only work to make you feel happier, but they also make you feel energized and alert. If you frequently fall victim to the dreaded afternoon slump, it may be a good idea to go for a short walk after eating lunch. The extra boost could help carry you through the rest of your day.
If you're stuck in a creative rut, a nice walk outside could be just the thing to get you out of it. According to a study by Stanford University, walking (either indoors or outdoors) was correlated with greater creative output. These walk-friendly weekend destinations could be just what your brain needs to get your creative juices flowing.
Lowers risk of diabetes
Instead of succumbing to a food coma on the couch, try going for a light walk after eating a large meal. Studies show that the practice of taking walks after eating can help to improve the way your body handles blood sugar. Even if you don't go for your walk after eating, walking every day can help you avoid diabetes in the long-term. According to a study published in 2012, there is sufficient scientific evidence to recommend exceeding 7,500 steps per day to prevent diabetes.
Helps with digestion
In addition to helping manage blood sugar, walking after a meal can help digestion run smoothly. Exercise of any kind stimulates peristalsis, which moves food through the digestive tract. You'll digest food more quickly simply by going for a walk. One study showed that going for a walk after a meal helped speed up digestion in healthy people, so long as alcohol wasn't involved in the meal.
You might think that walking would add unwelcome wear and tear to your bones as you age, but it's actually quite the opposite. Walking introduces your bones to impact, which improves bone density over time. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, people who participated in moderate exercise such as walking on a regular basis were less likely to experience fractures and more likely to have a higher bone density. But when it comes to walking, these benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more incredible benefits to walking daily that you probably hadn't heard of!
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