Walking can help relieve stress
FARGO - Ongoing flooding in North Dakota has left people in some areas of the state with fewer walking trails. Yet walking might be just what the doctor ordered for relieving the stress associated with flooding. "Getting moderate exercise such as...
FARGO - Ongoing flooding in North Dakota has left people in some areas of the state with fewer walking trails.
Yet walking might be just what the doctor ordered for relieving the stress associated with flooding.
"Getting moderate exercise such as walking can enhance our mood while it strengthens our hearts and reduces our risk for diabetes, cancer and numerous other health issues," says Julie Garden-Robinson, food and nutrition specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.
Research has shown that walking promotes the release of brain chemicals called endorphins that stimulate relaxation and improve our mood. Walking does not have to be done at a fast pace to have stress-relieving benefits. Even a stroll at a comfortable pace promotes relaxation, studies indicate.
Meditating while walking had the greatest impact on mood enhancement, according to a 16-week study that involved 135 volunteers divided into five groups. The different groups walked quickly or slowly. Some groups meditated while they walked, and some groups did not meditate.
As their meditation, the walkers simply counted "one, two, one, two" as they walked. The meditation was designed to have them focus on their steps instead of thinking about other concerns. Regardless of the speed of their walking, the meditating groups experienced the greatest impact on stress reduction and mood enhancement.
Fitness experts recommend that we get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Even 10- or 15-minute increments of physical activity can have health benefits. Walking for fitness or stress relief can be done almost anywhere: in a shopping mall, on a treadmill in front of your TV, or outdoors.
Ongoing stress puts us at greater risk for developing physical issues, including heart disease and cancer, and may increase or decrease our appetite. Along with getting regular physical activity, staying well-nourished is important for preventing the effects that stress might exert on the body.
"Be sure to eat a healthful diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables," Garden- Robinson says. "The latest recommendations say that half our plate should be fruits and vegetables, and the rest of our plate should include lean protein and grain-based foods, especially whole grains, with a cup of dairy on the side."
Try these tips adapted from the Weight Information Network, an information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. If you are new to walking, be sure to check with your health-care provider prior to beginning an exercise program.
* Choose a safe place to walk. Find a partner to encourage and support each other.
* Wear shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick, flexible soles. When you buy shoes, be sure to walk around the store before you take them home. Try to buy your shoes late in the day when your feet are at their largest.
* Wear clothes that keep you dry and comfortable.
* Divide your walk into three parts. First, warm up slowly and then increase your speed to a brisk walk. Walk fast enough to elevate your heart rate while still being able to speak comfortably, concentrate and breathe without effort. Finally, cool down after your walk.
* Break up your walk into multiple sessions throughout the day if you have a busy schedule. Be sure each session is at least 10 minutes long.
* Vary your routine. Try walks in different places to see different scenery.
* Set goals and reward yourself for your progress. Instead of splurging on a calorie-dense treat, see a movie, read a magazine or take time to do something else you enjoy.
* Keep track of your progress with a walking journal, log or calendar. Record the date, time and distance.
For more information about health and nutrition, visit http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/ndsuag/food-nutrition .