According to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, a staggering 40 million of Americans are suffering from anxiety disorders. If that doesn’t sound serious enough, eleven percent of women aged 35-45 are thought to be on anti anxiety or anti depressant medication. Stress is a normal part of everyone’s life. In a way, it is your body and mind’s way of telling you that everything is not alright so that you can make necessary adjustments to bring things back to their proper balance. The right amount of stress can motivate you to focus on the actions you need to take to change your situation. It can push you to meet certain goals e.g. studying for a hard test or completing a difficult task at work. However, too much stress can be detrimental to your health and result in a compromised immune system, high blood pressure, depression and fatigue. In extremely stressful situations your body may produce excessive amounts of the chemical epinephrine which damages the arteries in the heart, reduces their ability to regenerate and ultimately leads to heart disease.
The good news is that you can take steps to manage your stress levels so that you are able to function at optimal levels. One of the best ways to beat stress is to incorporate physical exercise into your daily routine. Studies show that aerobic exercise calms frizzled nerves and can even improve your mood. In fact, just walking 15 – 25 minutes a day has the same effect on your nervous system as a mild tranquilizer.
So how does walking reduce stress? Many forms of aerobic exercise stimulate the brain to release endorphins. Endorphins, often referred to as the brain’s ‘feel good chemicals’, help to relieve pain and elevate your moods. Endorphins are responsible for ‘runners high’ and the feelings of exhilaration you experience after completing a workout. Further, exercise reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline in the body allowing you to feel calmer and more relaxed. Additional benefits of walking include weight loss, increased muscle conditioning and improved body image.
Be sure to incorporate the following strategies into your 15 minute walking program in order to reap maximum benefits:
Invest in a good pair of shoes: since shoes are usually the only pair of equipment you need to start walking successfully, it is crucial to invest in a good pair. You do not want to get a pair that is too heavy or too tight as these can lead to injury and affect your ability to complete your workout.
Vary your route: you do not want to be looking at the same apartment blocks, stretch of road, or park views every time you walk out the door as this will lead to boredom and affect your motivation to continue.
Set a specific time for your walking workout to avoid procrastinating or being distracted by other activities when you should be taking your walk.
Instead of meeting your bestie for a Happy Hour cocktail, grab your walking shoes to talk it out while pounding the pavement together. You both will feel 10x better for indulging in aerobic activity instead of greasy appetizers and calorie-filled alcoholic cocktails.
Fido needs exercise too! Don't have a dog?... borrow one! Busy people are challenged with finding the time to walk their pooch. The joy you'll get from fido's happy, tail-waggin' walk is the best stress-relieving medicine on the market! I promise.
With a good walking program in place, you should be able to bring your stress levels down to manageable levels and be on your way to a healthier, happier you.