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Keep Calm and Walk On

Student walking on campus, near Powell Library

One step at a time, walking can help curb feelings of stress and anxiety that may have ramped up recently with the pandemic, social upheaval, economic crisis, fires, and of course, the election. A simple path to self-care — maintaining good mental health — can start with taking a walk.

Walking is good for your emotional, psychological, and social well-being, with studies consistently confirming a link between physical activity and better mental health. It can improve positive emotions and contribute to helping with serious conditions like depression. Walking is an easy self-care strategy to incorporate into your daily routine.

When you choose to walk to a place instead of drive, you are also healing the environment. Walking is a sustainable form of transportation that doesn’t cost anything, is low-impact, can be accomplished at any pace, and recommended by health professionals for wellness.

Anything that gets you moving helps your mind. Regular movement, like walking, eliminates cortisol (the stress hormone) from your system, thus reducing worry and anxiety. Walking calms you down by sparking nerve cells in the brain that relax the senses. Studies show walking also alleviates mood, wiping out negative thoughts, and energizing your spirits. 

Walking fights off bad feelings by promoting good changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. This physical activity releases endorphins, a powerful chemical produced by the body that makes you feel good. Walking can also serve as a distraction, providing quiet time to break free from a negative thought cycle.

As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. When your body feels better so, too, will your mind.

Restless types can try meditative walking to chill out. In addition to being a stress-buster, mindful walking, clearing your mind, and focusing on what's going on around you and what you're experiencing through your senses, can help you calm down.

Walk your way to wellness with a 20-30 minute stroll several times a week. Create a route in your neighborhood. Or, "commute" home to end your remote learning or telecommuting day with a walk outside. Listen to music or a podcast to add some interest to the walk. Remember to pay attention to your surroundings and follow other safety measures: wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing, and washing your hands upon returning home.