How going for a walk can help you feel good

by Dr Ailis Brosnan

Couple Walking Along Coastal Path

Have you ever gone for a walk and felt worse afterwards than you did before you went? I have yet to meet someone who has told me that they have! Experientially we all know that exercise makes us feel better but there is actually lots of research that supports this too.
We know that exercise can help us reduce anxiety, depression and stress and even has some beneficial effects for people with phobias and panic attacks. Research is also indicating that exercise:

  • Promotes a sense of well-being and happiness
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Brings about positive changes in self-perception, confidence and mood
  • Increases alertness, clear thinking and productivity
  • Brings about better cognitive function in older adults
  • Helps develop positive coping strategies.

brain at rest and after walk

I conducted a research study a few years ago on the impact of an 8 week exercise program on overweight inactive women. The majority of women signed up with the hope of losing weight, and gradually became more aware of the benefits to their health. By the end of the program however, it was the improvements in psychological well-being that were most valued by the women. By the end of the program they had experienced a 25% increase in their positive emotions. This highlights just how powerful exercise can be not just for physical health but for emotional/mental health too.
I would also include spiritual health in the list of benefits of exercise. I know for me personally, exercise is my meditation in motion, the thing that keeps be grounded and connected. This is amplified when exercising outdoors and again there is lots of evidence emerging to confirm what we all know, that exercising in nature is especially good for us.
Exercising in green space (particularly environments with water) has been shown to improve our self-esteem, mood and anxiety, more than walking in a different environment might. One study showed that mood improved by 66% in people walking in a country park versus only 45% in those walking in a shopping mall.
So, what do you need to do to get these well-being benefits?
The good news is that to start improving your mental health, you don’t necessarily need to run marathons or don your lycra and head to the gym! The latest research tells us that health gains can be obtained just by accumulating at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on 5 days of the week (or 150 minutes a week). It is also recommended to include muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more or to get that extra buzz, take the time to exercise in nature.
So go on – get active and experience the health benefits that physical activity can bring! It’s a great way to feel better, improve your health and have fun. As a renowned GP once stated, “If exercise could be packed in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine!”
Dr. Ailis Brosnan

Ailis Brosnan (13)i

Dr. Ailis Brosnan is the director of ‘Your Healthy Living Coach’ and she has over 20 years experience in health and fitness in the UK, USA and Ireland. Ailis is passionate about achieving optimal health as a means to leading a full enjoyable life. She blends latest research with a holistic approach to create an original and effective approach to improving your health.  She is currently developing an online version of her ‘Inspire’ healthy weight loss  program.  Her interests aside from health and fitness include preparing raw food, traveling, reading, alternative therapies, personal development and most of all, enjoying quality time with her family.


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