According to a recent study, walking to work is good for more than just physical exercise. British commuters experienced positive psychological effects after switching their method of commute to walking or cycling. The longitudinal study, conducted by health economists at the University of East Anglia, followed 18,000 commuters, compiled 18 years of data, and was published in the journal Preventive Medicine.
The physical benefits of walking are well documented and include: Weight reduction and management; prevention and management of cardiovascular disease including hypertension and stroke; prevention and management of type 2 diabetes; reduced joint pressure; prevention of osteoporosis; and improved balance and coordination. While the new Preventive Medicine study is compelling, it is not the first to document the positive non-physical effects of walking.
Significantly, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that walking for as little as 30 minutes a day boosted the moods of depressed individuals faster than antidepressants. Walking releases endorphins, or natural, feel-good hormones, which help to elevate mood.
Yet another study showed that mood increases with the number of steps taken, indicating that the longer the walk, the better the mood. This finding corresponds with the East Anglia study, which showed that the longer the commute by car, the worse the individual’s psychological well-being and the longer the walk to work, the better the individual reported feeling.
In his best-selling book, You On a Diet, Michael Roizen, MD, proposes that the psychological effects of walking 30 minutes each day could be even more valuable than the physical effects. He reasons that walking for 30 minutes each day is easy, doable and maintainable, which makes walking an ideal way for a person to build self-esteem through the process of overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. Achieving daily walking goals may establish a solid foundation on which to build toward other, possibly more complex, lifestyle changes that may be needed.
Further studies have shown that a regular walking routine can slow mental decline among the elderly and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Walking also has been shown to reduce insomnia and can provide an opportunity for increased spiritual awareness through meditative intent and contact with nature.
While walking is good for more than just physical exercise, it must be done regularly for an individual reap the benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, daily physical exercise must not be complicated. The simpler and easier the activity, like walking, the more likely a person is to do it regularly. Since walking is one of the simplest forms of physical exercise, and is known to improve cardiovascular health, reduce, stress and improve overall well-being, it is an ideal starting point for achieving physical, mental, and emotional fitness.
With simplicity in mind, some prudent prior planning before beginning a new regular activity will help ensure ongoing success. Begin a new walking commute or regular walking regimen with the following considerations in mind: Supportive, comfortable, weather-appropriate shoes and clothing; adequate hydration; sun protection; warm-up, cool-down, and stretching routines; route safety; goal-setting; and progress-tracking methods.
The University of East Anglia study is significant because it examines participants who made a change to walking or cycling from some other form of commuting. While walking or cycling to work each day may not be feasible for all commuters, especially in the United States, where traveling distances may be especially long, or in situations where walking or cycling is not legal or safe, changes can still be made.
The study also found that positive psychological effects accrued from using public transportation. Researchers attributed this finding to the fact that there is usually some walking involved to get to the bus stop or railway station, and that riding instead of driving allows the commuter to prepare for, or decompress from, the day’s work experience. These stress-reducing benefits make walking good for more than just physical exercise.
By Lane Therrell