Are you fed up with feeling anxious, depressed, worried, or tired? Are you ready to take a giant leap and leave those feelings behind? Would it thrill you to instead be filled with energy and enthusiasm?
Scientific studies have found that one of the most affordable and effective ways of improving mental health is exercise. Regular exercise can profoundly reduce depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and more. In addition, it can sharpen memory, increase self-esteem, improve sleep, boost energy and leave you more mentally resilient. And here’s the best part: you don’t need to train like a marathoner or triathlete, hire a fitness guru, or obtain a gym membership, all you have to do is walk.
I once swam and lifted weights regularly and occasionally still do, but lately, I’ve been walking more and more. I started on a treadmill, which was initially quite boring. I’ve seen people walking or even running on treadmills for an hour or more, but twenty minutes was the most that I could stand.
There were advantages to treadmills, however. I could force myself to walk faster and at steeper inclines. By pushing myself increasingly harder, treadmill workouts improved my energy and stamina, reduced anxiety, and made me feel more balanced. In addition; my resting heart rate slowed; my blood pressure dropped; my cholesterol levels improved; and ultrasonic scans showed no plaque buildup in my arteries or thickening of my heart wall—both of which were detected a year earlier. The technician administering the tests even enquired as to what I did to keep my heart and arteries so healthy at age sixty.
Nowadays, I’ve ditched the treadmill for the most part, finding Mother Nature preferable to the gym. I can walk anytime: before work, at lunch-time, or even late at night and take different routes to keep it interesting. I’ve increased my mileage and generally walk more than three miles. I’ve begun hiking more often and found that steep trails that once left me breathless are now easy. The best part is: I look forward to walking and even skip other activities to do it.
I’ve found another benefit of walking: it gives me time to reflect. As I walk I often think of positive aspects of my life: relationships, pets, hobbies, vacations, etc. When was the last time that you intentionally reflected on what’s right in your life?
On a recent three-mile walk, I reminisced about my three dogs for the first mile. By the end of that mile, my face hurt from smiling. I thought about my daughters during the second mile and was fighting back tears of joy by the end. I relived many wonderful moments that my wife and I have shared over the years for the last mile. Those three miles flew by and for the remainder of the day I felt at peace. I could not believe the impact of combining exercise with positive thinking.
I was once mentally ill and was told that I would be medicated for life. I fought that life sentence with diet, exercise, vitamins, supplements, and positive thinking. Subsequently, I have been free of both medication and mental illness for five years. I truly believe that if we take proper care of our bodies and minds, we can live a quality life free of medication and mental suffering.
It can be frightening to take the bull by the horns and begin exercising. Barriers such as injury or illness; lack of endurance; fear of failure; body image issues, or even the weather can stand in your way. However, all it takes is something that you do every day anyway: put one foot in front of the other.
Exercise has improved my life more than anything else, but I am not running marathons or competing in triathlons, I’m simply walking. It’s something that anyone can do—even you. When you do, be sure to reflect on positive memories, so that wherever you walk, it will be the best walk of your life.
I’d love to hear how exercise has improved your mental health. Please leave a comment or contact me through this website’s contact page.