The remarkable science of the wellness effects of walking

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In Prince William’s December podcast for the Apple Fitness +, Time to walk series, he says walking gives him “an opportunity to clear his head and take a step back.” “It’s a key part of how I manage my mental health,” he says.

During a 38-minute stroll around the Royal Family’s 20,000-acre estate at Sandringham, we join him in a meandering conversation that stems from memories of his mother, of his own mental health issues as a air ambulance pilot to the joy he experiences being with his children. At the end of the hike and the conversation I felt surprisingly connected to someone I will never meet and certainly more relaxed than when I started the walk. Prince William realized what science now proves, that walking is one of the most effective ways to improve our state of mind.

There are good reasons why walking makes us feel good. Credit:iStock

According to a study Posted in Lancet Psychiatry who analyzed four-year data from 1.2 million people in the United States, people who exercise had 43% fewer days of poor mental health in the previous month compared to those who did not exercise.

So what is going on? What is it that walking in particular has such a positive effect on us?

When we look at the psychology, neuroscience, and biochemistry that develop when we put one foot in front of the other, we discover some very powerful reasons behind these great feelings.

First, walking increases the levels of “feel-good” chemicals in our brains. We are seeing an increase in the release of endorphins; a group of peptide hormones that relieve pain and create an overall sense of well-being. And there is an increased flow of particular neurotransmitters, these are the chemical messengers of the body; used by the nervous system to transmit messages between neurons in the brain or between the brain and muscles. Going for a walk increases neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, anandamide, and norepinephrine which help create a more open and spacious state of mind.

Walking promotes our sense of empathy. This is because when we walk we activate the right supramarginal gyrus, it is the area of ​​the brain involved in proprioception – our ability to understand where we are in space – and without it we would collide with random objects and n would have no ability to navigate. But the supramarginal gyrus is also the part of the brain that is activated when we sympathize with others. Walking inadvertently opens us up to people and their ideas, and knowing that we are not alone – being able to connect more easily with people around us – can help break the rumination that sometimes accompanies difficult mental states.

Putting one foot in front of the other is what we, Homo sapiens, are made for. For 4 million years, since our first ancestors began to walk, our body and mind have developed around this simplest form of locomotion. Walking for most of this history has been the vehicle through which we have supported ourselves through hunting and gathering, and as we walk our bodies remember that is what we are meant to do, this is our default mode; moving around on two feet, not sitting in front of a screen, is what we do best. Anyone with the physical ability is an expert in bipedalism, and each time we feel expert, our confidence increases and our mental health improves.

Walking also has an incredible ability to reduce stress. Clinical psychologist and neuroscientist Dr Stan Rodski said: “If I had to sum up all my learning over 40 years or so, I would say most people’s stress starts with the complaint: I don’t have enough time. “. And walking radically changes our relationship to time. Firstly, walking lowers the frequency of our brain waves from the beta region to the high theta range – the theta wave between 5 and 10 Hz is the frequency we enter when we meditate, which promotes an expansive state of mind. and less dependent on time.


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