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Your Healthy Family: Physical & mental health benefits of walking

Posted at 7:55 AM, May 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-17 11:07:50-04

SOUTHWEST FLA. — May is National Walking Month. Studies show walking up to 30 minutes a day can help you reduce your risk of health issues like heart disease. It can also boost your mental health.

National Walking Month was first introduced by the American Health Association 16 years ago to promote a healthy and active lifestyle.

“Walking or really any aerobic activity helps make the heart a bit more efficient,” Dr. Tamanna Singh, a Cardiologist with Cleveland Clinic, said. “Your heart actually becomes more effective with each contractility or each heart pump that it provides for that type of exercise.”

Walking can be done at any place at any time. And the amount of time you spend walking depends on you and your goals.

Dr. Singh said the key is to stay consistent if you really want to see life-long results and improve your cardiovascular risk.

If physical health isn’t a motivator to get out and go for a walk, there are also a lot of mental health benefits to taking a stroll.

“It helps keep us present and out of the past or worrying about the future,” Cory Webster, a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist at the David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health in Naples, said.

She said going for a walk also helps you get into a routine.

“Having something that helps you stay disciplined, helps keep you focused. Your life could be going up and down as life does, but you have your constant routine that you stick to, and walking helps to manage that, and navigate the highs and lows of life,” she said.

Webster said she has clients in their Crossroads substance-use recovery program do as part of their treatment plan. She has them walk on a regular, scheduled basis.

“We take the clients out pretty regularly on walks. So every time I facilitate a group, we're going for a walk before group and we're going for a walk after group," she said.

She said walking helps people in recovery stay in the moment and develop a new routine.

“The thought behind that is, we're here we're learning a new way of life, right? Learning these healthy skills and tools that we can utilize. So if we go for a walk four times a day, if that becomes your new normal, you're more likely to continue with that once you leave treatment," Webster said.

She said even in one-on-one settings, walking is beneficial.

“Instead of sitting in an office, we'll go walk around campus. It kind of just lightens the mood, helps us stay present, and it's just less stressful. By the time we come back from a walk, they're just more at ease and a little bit more open to receiving," she said.

Reid Kirchhoff, an Outpatient Therapist at the David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health, said taking a walk outside instead of indoors on a treadmill is especially good for your mental health.

“It gets us out of sometimes our overly frantic technical worlds, helps us find a more centered version of ourselves by being in nature, separating from some of the noises and distractions that we have,” he said. “It’s one of the number one things that I tell people to do whenever they experience anxiety.”

“I’m sure you've heard the term before ‘Move a muscle, change a thought.’ That's walking., You're constantly in motion. And your mind isn't just all over the place, it's right here with you. Your head is where your feet are,” Webster said.

Dr. Singh said walking with a friend can make your time more fun and also adds some accountability. If you do have to walk alone, she suggests listening to your favorite music or podcast to stay motivated.