Step More for Less Stress this Spring

Apr 22, 2024 | Stress Management

Are constant deadlines, endless notifications, and daily responsibilities weighing you down? The stress might seem unavoidable, but it is and it’s in your best interest to ease it. If you want to add years to your life, all you have to do is simply make an effort to step outside into nature. 

 

Understanding Stress: Causes and Impacts on Health

Stress isn’t just an uncomfortable feeling; it’s a physical response that corrodes your mental and physical health. When you’re stressed, your body releases a flood of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which activate your fight, flight, fawn, or freeze response. This response can save your life in dangerous situations, but when triggered too often, it does more harm than good. 

Constant exposure to stress hormones can lead to debilitating effects. Your arteries will harden, leading to increased heart attack risk. Your blood sugar levels will rollercoaster, enhancing the chance of developing diabetes. And your brain’s ability to regulate mood and memory will diminish, speeding up cognitive decline or contributing to anxiety and depression.

The constant flood of cortisol leads to chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system (to name a few). Chronic inflammation can be linked back to almost all preventable diseases. I am sure by now you can see the seriousness of managing your stress. But unfortunately, this isn’t even the full scope of the issue. 

Stress prevents you from getting the proper sleep you need for natural detoxification, repair, and rejuvenation of your mind and body. Both lack of sleep and the stress hormones leave you dying to have a bite (or two, or three…) of high-sugar and high in saturated-fat foods. Sticking to a healthy diet is nearly impossible when your hormones are working against you. This creates a negative feedback loop that can feel hopeless to break, and it’s your health that takes the brunt of it.

 

Can Going for Nature Walks Really Improve Your Health?

Too many people have a mindset that they need to do an intense workout or run miles to ‘be healthy.’ This is often a deterrent. This is especially true for those who struggle with finding balance with all-or-nothing thinking or who are pressed for time. I am here to tell you that you can lower your stress by just getting outside for a walk! 

When you go for a walk, you engage in steady-state cardio. I want you to start thinking: “All movement is good movement.” And sustainability and consistency are key to reaping the health rewards. But I want to break this down for you further because walking gets seen in a lesser light than other exercises. You might even think, “How is going for a walk meant to help when I am up to my eyeballs in things to do?” but it can be such a potent remedy for stress and just your overall well-being. 

Imagine that feeling when you step into nature. As you breathe in fresh air, your lungs fill with oxygen, boosting the supply to your brain and bloodstream. While it is no doubt refreshing, it actually helps clear your mind and reduces feelings of fatigue.

Walking, especially in serene environments like parks or forests, initiates a cascade of physical reactions that enhance your health, too. Your heart rate increases, improving cardiovascular health and boosting blood circulation. This enhanced circulation sends more oxygen and nutrients to your cells while also removing waste products. It is necessary to help lower your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Exposure to green spaces is renowned for lowering cortisol levels and elevating mood-lifting endorphins. Movement also does this, so you are getting a positive chain reaction from both the exercise and being in nature. You can thank dopamine for this. It is a neurotransmitter that can be thought of as the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. You get a heavy dose of dopamine when you get your steps in. The combination of nature and movement will make you feel more relaxed and happier. It will combate the feelings of stress and anxiety that plague daily life.

By making nature walks a regular part of your life, you’re actively engaging in a practice that revitalizes your body’s defense systems, builds muscles, helps manage weight, sharpens your mind, and calms your emotions. This is a simple but effective self-care method and spring is the perfect time to make a habit of it! 

 

How Many Steps Should You Aim for Each Day?

I bet you’ve heard that you should be doing 10,000 steps per day. This number has been floating around the health and wellness spaces for decades. It was actually introduced by a Japanese marketing campaign in the 1960s. Its focus was selling a pedometer called “manpo-kei,” which translates to “10,000 steps meter.” It didn’t go higher than this before resetting. This campaign was a marketing tool rather than grounded in scientific research at the time.

While it’s great if you can walk 10,000 steps or more a day, if that number feels too daunting, don’t let it stop you from getting your steps in at all.

According to research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, women in their 70s who walked just 4,400 steps daily reduced their risk of early death by about 40% compared to those who walked less. And the benefits keep increasing up to about 7,500-8,000 steps per day, where they can begin to plateau.

Even adding around 3,000 more steps to your daily routine (like a 30-minute walk) can make a huge difference! 

Start where you are and gradually increase your steps to what feels best for your lifestyle. As I shared before, if you want the health and anti-stress benefits, you need to make sure you can consistently manage the commitment without getting overwhelmed and avoid it altogether.

 

Tips for Adding Walking into Your Daily Routine

I know you are juggling a busy schedule, but integrating walking into your daily routine doesn’t need to be so difficult that it can’t be done. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and with a few tips and tricks, I promise you can make it happen! …and without compromising on the important things you need to do. Here’s how you can seamlessly add more steps into your day without it feeling like an added task:

Park Further Away

Choose parking spots further from your destination to naturally increase your walking distance.

Take the Stairs

Skip the elevator and opt for the stairs. This small change can make a big difference in your daily step count.

Walk During Breaks

Use part of your lunch or coffee breaks for a quick walk. Even a 10-minute stroll can refresh your mind and body.

Schedule Walking Meetings

If possible, suggest walking meetings with colleagues. This can make meetings more dynamic and physically engaging.

Evening Walks

End your day with a short walk. It’s a great way to decompress, especially if you’ve spent the day sedentary at the office or home.

Use a Step Tracker

Keep motivated by tracking your steps with a smartphone or a fitness tracker. Setting daily goals and monitoring your progress can be highly motivating.

By making these small tweaks to your daily routine, you gradually build a habit that doesn’t require major lifestyle changes. Each step adds up! 

 

How to Safely Enjoy Nature Walks

Whether you’re taking a walk in a secluded forest or your local park, safety should always be key. Start by checking the weather to ensure you’re dressed appropriately. Opt for layers, especially if you are hiking, as the weather can change quickly, but you also don’t want to risk overheating. Proper footwear is essential; shoes with good support and traction prevent slips and falls on uneven paths and trails. 

Inform someone about your walking or hiking plans. This should include your route and expected return time, especially important if you’re exploring less populated areas. For personal safety, particularly for women walking alone, consider carrying a personal alarm and regularly changing your routes to prevent becoming too predictable. Be aware of your surroundings, especially wildlife or unstable terrain. It’s also a good practice to walk during daylight hours or in well-lit areas (if you prefer evening walks) to increase your visibility and safety.

Carry a water bottle to stay hydrated, and consider a lightweight first aid kit for unexpected scrapes or twists. 

If cell service is unreliable where you’re headed, a physical map or GPS device can be a lifesaver.

By taking these precautions, you can ease your stress, move your body, and fully enjoy the rejuvenating benefits of connecting with nature. 

 

Managing your stress and getting in the best health of your life doesn’t mean you need to flip your life upside down. It starts with simple steps, literally. Take advantage of the beautiful spring weather to step more for less stress. Whether it’s a weekend hike to see a waterfall, a stroll around your local park, or a brisk morning walk through your neighborhood. Each step is a stride towards a more vibrant and energetic you!

If you want more tips on how you can optimize your life with the power of nature, why not join me on Pocket Doc! Get exclusive access to tips, invaluable content, live zoom calls, and more!

 

 


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