Walking and mental health -- Give your mood a boost!

by Robert A. Barnett

Walking and Mental HealthWalking isn't just good for you physically, it can give you a mental boost as well!

Why not be happier? What's the worst that can happen?

Need to clear your head? Take a brisk walk. Even a 10-minute stroll boosts mood.

Walking doesn't need to just be for exercise -- make it a part of your everyday health regimen!

Try getting the whole family in on the activity! You could start a new trend in your neighborhood!

Boost your mood by walking!

• You'll get more oxygen into your brain. During rapid walking, the frontal areas of the brain take in additional oxygen, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health. This means quicker reaction time, an increased ability to ignore distractions and enhanced ability to complete a variety of mental tasks. 

• Walking also increases levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine — active ingredients in many antidepressant medications. 

• Walking can be effective treatment for depression. Research has found that exercise such as regular walking is as effective in the treatment of major depressive disorders as standard anti-depressant medications. Of course, if you suffer from clinical depression, professional help is a must. 

• A good walk is an easy way to take action. It helps you feel a sense of control, and thus boosts confidence.

• Walking is also a social activity, and social support is important in mental health. Studies of mall walkers find that the primary motivation is not health promotion but simply the social benefits of participating. 

• Walk outside in the sunshine whenever possible, especially in the morning. Natural light is an antidepressant.

• As you walk, pay attention to how you feel. A good walk is a good time to get in touch with feelings of anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, worry — to literally walk through your emotions. Let your emotions flow through your walk. Listen to yourself. 

• Got a problem you can't figure out? Plan a therapeutic walk. You'll learn to savor this private time with yourself to regain a sense of perspective, while you bathe your brain in oxygen and neurotransmitters that let you function at your best.

Robert A. Barnett is an award-winning journalist who specializes in food and nutrition. He is the author of Tonics (HarperPerennial, 1997), coauthor of The Guilt-Free Comfort Food Cookbook (Thomas Nelson, 1996), and coauthor of Magic Foods (Readers Digest, 2007).

© 2012 Alere. All rights reserved. Last reviewed June 2012. Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.