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Walking: Take Steps Toward Natural Mental Health

Last Updated on January 27, 2023 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Alternative to Meds Center encourages non-toxic ways to improve mental wellness naturally. Walking is one of the easiest to access, involves no cost, except perhaps comfortable walking shoes, and is possibly one of the most entirely overlooked therapies available on planet Earth for natural mental health improvements.

Below are just some of the evidence-based benefits of regular walking that you can start to enjoy immediately. We hope the information below helps to inspire making regular daily walking a favorite strategy for natural mental health benefits.

walking for mental health

Can a simple daily stroll really improve mental health?
There are fascinating clinical studies that have demonstrated how something as simple as a daily walk can be such a powerhouse of positive change. Alternative to Meds Center is a huge fan of natural strategies for improving mental and physical wellness, and our years of client success have been documented. Walking is one simple change you can make in your life that might open up a whole new world of positive benefits for you. Please read on to find out more about this exciting topic.
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Walking for Blood Sugar Management

Blood sugar spikes and crashes may account for a significant number of perceived energy crashes and mood swings, which can develop into chronic disasters. Diet and nutrition are key factors, of course. Living on a steady diet of sugary, high-carb, or overly-processed “fake foods” can play havoc with blood sugar levels that impact energy, mental clarity, and mood. walking to control blood sugarHave you experienced profound fatigue after eating, especially after high-carb meals or snacks? Do you often get cravings for sweets after a meal or late at night? Reactive hypoglycemia (high glucose levels) is particularly common after high carb consumption which spikes blood sugar levels, followed by a steep crash and debilitating symptoms, including fatigue. Cravings can occur when energy is low and your body is signaling a “quick fix” is needed. This pattern can lead to weight gain, poor sleep, brain fog, depression, irritability, and many other unwanted symptoms. Correcting the diet, and any nutritional deficits that may have developed over time are highly recommended to avoid such catastrophes. And, walking could be another incredibly effective “secret weapon” in your arsenal! 13-16

Did you know that symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation such as those of hypoglycemia, are often misdiagnosed as a stroke or some form of neurological or mental illness? This may lead to a tragically erroneous treatment protocol (such as prescription drugs) that may drastically hamper successful recovery.18

Walking is another strategy to manage blood sugar, and WHEN to walk is an important key to success. A fascinating study published in the International Journal of General Medicine reported that taking a walk RIGHT AFTER EATING has been shown to prevent the dreaded crash that often follows a meal. And, another bonus, a 30-minute walk right after eating can significantly accelerate weight loss compared to waiting for an hour or more to take a walk after a meal.

Are you smiling yet? There’s even more good news, so read on!

Walking and Hormone Regulation

Hormones consist of many types of molecules and compounds made by the human body. These include mood and energy and pain regulators (neurotransmitters) such as endogenous opioid peptides, dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, glutamate, dopamine, and cortisol, the “stress hormone,” and about a million others.10,12

Exercise releases and activates certain hormones, resulting in what is sometimes called the “runner’s high” — a natural euphoria. Exercise has been found profoundly helpful in cases of depression, anxiety, and other mood dysfunction. Now that is good news for any of the millions of people in the US alone who suffer from mood disorders!

Walking for Natural Mental Health Can Improve Sleep

Insomnia negatively impacts one’s efficiency at work and can impair social functioning, and the quality of one’s day-to-day life in uncountable ways. Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise, unlike sleeping pills, can improve sleep but leaves no harmful side effects in its “wake.”

All puns aside, regular walkers are better sleepers. And better sleep means more energy, focus, a clearer head, less depression, less brain fog, and an overall improved mood. Now that really is something to smile about.2,3,6

Where to Walk for the Best Long-Term Benefits?

walk for healthWalking can be done anywhere you have a few square meters of floor. Maybe that means your apartment, your back deck, your yard, out on the street, at a nearby track, or even up and down stairs at your place of work. These are all perfect locations for regular walking, as long as the space you choose is easy to access, well-lit, and relatively flat. When you walk out of doors you get the added benefit of plenty of oxygen, sunshine, and vitamin D, also recommended for a lift in mood. It may be pleasant to take a friend with you or grab your spouse or a family member or two to make it a fun way to get social and get extroverted.

The practice of “shinrin-yoku,” or forest bathing, is an extraordinary way to get maximum benefits from regular walking. Forest bathing means walking in a treed area, like a park or natural forest if you are lucky to be near one. Not only do you soak in the serenity, and the wonderful sights and smells of natural flora, but a study out of Poland showed walking in a forest made significant positive changes in mental confusion, anger, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and even lessened psychosis symptoms. On a physical level, it was found that the body increases the production of “killer cells” that are immunoprotective after walking in the forest. And, the body also increases intracellular levels of anti-cancer proteins. Increased vigor was another benefit that was found statistically significant in the clinical study.

In addition to all that, the benefits of forest bathing can be long-lasting, up to 30 days or longer. So even if you can only occasionally access this type of environment, you’ll still likely be benefiting in the future.1,14-16

The bottom line is — ANYWHERE you choose to walk is beneficial, and know you are doing great things for your mental and physical health.

Walking for Natural Mental Health — Cognitive Benefits and Improved Mood

happy endorphinsThere are so many potential benefits for cognitive health and mood that are associated with simply walking every day, that one begins to think someone might be trying to hide this information from the general public. If word got out, maybe some drug companies would go under. So let’s bring this information out in the sunlight so we can take steps to gain better cognitive function today, and every day!

Regular daily walking could be likened to a bank account that pays interest. After a year, mental health improvements can accrue. Just think! After 12 months of regular daily walking, one’s mental health is better than it was one year prior, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology. Depression becomes less problematic. This is suggested to be related to increased endorphins and endogenous cannabinoids which are natural antidepressants and pain relievers that the body itself produces. These are the “feel good” chemicals, and you don’t have to go to the drugstore to get them if you walk every day. Regular aerobic exercise actually improves mental fitness in perhaps some surprising ways.1,4,5,7,9,10

Symptoms walking daily can improve:
  • Rumination (negative thoughts constantly looping through the mind)
  • Feelings of sadness
  • Hostility
  • Guilt
  • Fear

Wow, who knew???????

Walking to Improve Muscle, Joint, and Bone Strength

Walking is a renowned method for slowing bone loss, and maintaining skeletal integrity. Muscle and joint strength are additional elements within a whole basket of physical improvements that can make life much easier, and less painful, so a person can experience more vigor and energy in day-to-day life.7,6

Walking for Natural Mental Health and Long Life — Is there a Connection?

Particularly when life is enjoyable, and we are free of chronic ailments, we want it to last as long as we can. Walking is a sort of predictor of mortality. More means more in this case.4

Studies published in the Journal of Aging Research,17 and the Journal of Epidemiology 11 have found that walking is associated with fewer chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurologic disorders, and other potential health crises that statistically seem to emerge more as we age. These studies show we can attain longevity, and enjoy a much healthier state as time goes on than ever before! Want to turn the longevity dial up as high as possible? As these and other renowned researchers say, “Keep walking!!!”

Alternative to Meds Offers Many Non-Toxic Strategies for Natural Mental Health

sedona hiking for healthFor about 20 years, Alternative to Meds Center has been a world leader in offering strategies that lead to improvement in natural mental health and quality of life. Please visit our services overview pages for more details on the kinds of treatment protocols that are used in our programs every day that help our clients improve their mental health naturally. Orthomolecular medicine, environmental medicine, neurotoxin removal, and neurotransmitter rehabilitation are some examples, using diet, exercise, psychological, and other nontoxic treatments for overall improvements in mental health … naturally. We are always available to speak with you and provide further information on the services we offer that, like walking, can help attain your personal health goals without solely struggling with or relying upon prescription medications for relief.

We understand the complex nature of personal situations and that one step alone is perhaps not comprehensive enough to fully reach one’s potential goals. That is why we are here. Please call us for a consultation and find out how an amazing range of therapies and methods used in our programs may be the steps you can take, to help you reach your best potential for natural mental health and longevity.

1. Chen ST, Stevinson C, Yang CH, Sun WJ, Chen LJ, Ku PW. Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of outdoor walking with overall mental health in later life. Exp Gerontol. 2021 Aug;151:111428. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2021.111428. Epub 2021 May 27. PMID: 34052347. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

2. Chen LJ, Fox KR, Sun WJ, Tsai PS, Ku PW, Chu D. Associations between walking parameters and subsequent sleep difficulty in older adults: A 2-year follow-up study. J Sport Health Sci. 2018 Jan;7(1):95-101. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2017.01.007. Epub 2017 Jan 18. PMID: 30356469; PMCID: PMC6180541. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

3. Wang L, Zou B. The Association Between Gait Speed and Sleep Problems Among Chinese Adults Aged 50 and Greater. Front Neurosci. 2022 Apr 26;16:855955. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2022.855955. PMID: 35557611; PMCID: PMC9087727. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

4. Belvederi Murri M, Ekkekakis P, Magagnoli M, Zampogna D, Cattedra S, Capobianco L, Serafini G, Calcagno P, Zanetidou S, Amore M. Physical Exercise in Major Depression: Reducing the Mortality Gap While Improving Clinical Outcomes. Front Psychiatry. 2019 Jan 10;9:762. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00762. PMID: 30687141; PMCID: PMC6335323. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

5. Zhu Z, Chen H, Ma J, He Y, Chen J, Sun J. Exploring the Relationship between Walking and Emotional Health in China. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 27;17(23):8804. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17238804. PMID: 33260796; PMCID: PMC7734587. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

6. Sullivan Bisson AN, Robinson SA, Lachman ME. Walk to a better night of sleep: testing the relationship between physical activity and sleep. Sleep Health. 2019 Oct;5(5):487-494. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2019.06.003. Epub 2019 Jul 26. PMID: 31358470; PMCID: PMC6801055. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

7. Wojtys EM. Keep on Walking. Sports Health. 2015 Jul;7(4):297-8. doi: 10.1177/1941738115590392. PMID: 26137172; PMCID: PMC4481680. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

8. Krall EA, Dawson-Hughes B. Walking is related to bone density and rates of bone loss. Am J Med. 1994 Jan;96(1):20-6. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(94)90111-2. PMID: 8304358. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

9. Basso JC, Oberlin DJ, Satyal MK, O’Brien CE, Crosta C, Psaras Z, Metpally A, Suzuki WA. Examining the Effect of Increased Aerobic Exercise in Moderately Fit Adults on Psychological State and Cognitive Function. Front Hum Neurosci. 2022 Jul 12;16:833149. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2022.833149. PMID: 35903787; PMCID: PMC9317941. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

10. Hicks SD, Jacob P, Perez O, Baffuto M, Gagnon Z, Middleton FA. The Transcriptional Signature of a Runner’s High. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 May;51(5):970-978. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001865. PMID: 30557194. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

11. Zhao W, Ukawa S, Kawamura T, Wakai K, Ando M, Tsushita K, Tamakoshi A. Health Benefits of Daily Walking on Mortality Among Younger-Elderly Men With or Without Major Critical Diseases in the New Integrated Suburban Seniority Investigation Project: A Prospective Cohort Study. J Epidemiol. 2015;25(10):609-16. doi: 10.2188/jea.JE20140190. Epub 2015 Jul 4. PMID: 26155815; PMCID: PMC4626390. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

12. Beserra AHN, Kameda P, Deslandes AC, Schuch FB, Laks J, Moraes HS. Can physical exercise modulate cortisol level in subjects with depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Trends Psychiatry Psychother. 2018 Oct-Dec;40(4):360-368. doi: 10.1590/2237-6089-2017-0155. PMID: 30570106. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

13. Hijikata Y, Yamada S. Walking just after a meal seems to be more effective for weight loss than waiting for one hour to walk after a meal. Int J Gen Med. 2011;4:447-50. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S18837. Epub 2011 Jun 9. PMID: 21731896; PMCID: PMC3119587. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

14. Li Q. Effets des forêts et des bains de forêt (shinrin-yoku) sur la santé humaine : une revue de la littérature [Effect of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on human health: A review of the literature]. Sante Publique. 2019 May 13;S1(HS):135-143. French. doi: 10.3917/spub.190.0135. PMID: 31210473. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

15. Li Q. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):9-17. doi: 10.1007/s12199-008-0068-3. PMID: 19568839; PMCID: PMC2793341. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

16. Bielinis E, Jaroszewska A, Łukowski A, Takayama N. The Effects of a Forest Therapy Programme on Mental Hospital Patients with Affective and Psychotic Disorders. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Dec 23;17(1):118. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17010118. PMID: 31877954; PMCID: PMC6982075. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

17. Bherer L, Erickson KI, Liu-Ambrose T. A review of the effects of physical activity and exercise on cognitive and brain functions in older adults. J Aging Res. 2013;2013:657508. doi: 10.1155/2013/657508. Epub 2013 Sep 11. PMID: 24102028; PMCID: PMC3786463. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

18. Holstein A, Egberts EH. ZNS-Symptome durch Hypoglykämie: häufige Fehldiagnose “Schlaganfall”, Chamäleon neuroglukopenisches Syndrom [CNS symptoms caused by hypoglycemia: frequent misdiagnosis: “stroke”. Pitfall of the neuroglycopenia syndrome]. MMW Fortschr Med. 1999 Jun 3;141(22):42-4. German. PMID: 10468475. [cited 2023 Jan 10]

Originally Published January 11,2023 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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