By Alyssa Baker
What would you say if you went in for a visit with your primary care physician and came out with a prescription for walking? Many studies are revealing the importance of not only physical activity, but specifically, walking. Walking has been found to be a beneficial aspect of treatment and management for many chronic illnesses; such as, Arthritis, chronic lower back pain, Hypertension, Diabetes, and Obesity (Berkeley Wellness, 2016).
I've spent a lot of time in counseling sessions, and I would say that in the first session, most of my clients express the desire to exercise more often. When life seems overwhelming, fitting exercise into the daily routine seems like a daunting task. Several barriers are brought up: general lack of time, energy, motivation, and finances. This is the time in session where I want to say, "Well let's go walk right now. Let's stop sitting on this couch and in this chair and just get moving. The time is now!" So, now I do say this at times! The more I dive into the literature, the more I realize that traditional counseling is not always the most helpful, in and of itself. Counseling should not be a “one size fits all” treatment. I’ll never forget when a client commented to me, “When I’m in this office, I feel like I’m in the principal’s office.” Yikes! Traditional counseling will not work if this is the feeling and dynamic; however, take this client walking, and the flexibility, open-air, and movement makes all the difference.
We have all heard about exercise causing a release of endorphins, but it’s even more than that. In fact, areas of the brain that regulate our mood, stress response, memory, and concentration are all impacted by increased blood circulation in the brain, which can be induced by walking (Sharma, Madaan, & Petty, 2006). Walking has also been found to increase creativity, which is often lacking in a closed-in office space (Berkeley Wellness, 2016). Finding life-balance is all about getting creative. It’s about discovering your strengths and exploring how to apply these strengths in all areas of your life to build life-satisfaction and wellness. Exercise can create some of these positive effects, but some of us get caught up in thinking that we have to run three miles every day or join a bootcamp to reap the benefits, and then we do nothing! Walking has been specifically studied and discussed as it is one of the simplest forms of exercise. Walking can take place during a lunch break, a meeting with a colleague, or during your child’s baseball practice. All it takes are some walking shoes and a clear path. Evidence-based mental health treatments are vital in my approach, so why not also use evidence-based physical treatments? Everyone wants to get it right the first time; so, using collaborative approaches, such as combining physical and mental treatments, will help generate positive changes that actually stick.
(1) Berkeley Wellness. (2016, January 07). 8 Great Benefits of Walking. Retrieved from: http://www.berkeleywellness.com/fitness/active-lifestyle/article/8-great-benefits-walking.
(2) Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for Mental Health. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106.
*Article previously printed in the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine