Why You Need to Walk for Your Mental Health & Relationships

Solvitur ambulando is a Latin phrase that means “it is solved by walking.” Originally attributed to St. Augustine, the saying has been utilized by such giants as Thoreau, Lewis Carroll, and my personal favorite, Dorothy Sayers. But the phrase is practical, too. Walking presents us with opportunities to improve our physical health, conquer our difficult emotions, and enrich our relationships.

According to the Center for Disease Control, we know that physical activity reduces our risk of Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and Stroke. Walking has been an enduring means to accomplish our recommended amount of aerobic exercise, as it doesn’t require a gym membership or expensive equipment. The increased popularity of wearable step-trackers like the “FitBit” have even presented us with the ability to accumulate steps throughout the day while going about other tasks, like frantically chasing a three-year-old around the house as he pulls behind him a rolling suitcase leaking leftover chicken soup (actual personal experience, 200 steps). 

Equally important to the physical benefits of walking, but perhaps lesser known is its promotion of mental health. The CDC reports that physical activity can reduce an individual’s risk of developing depression, and according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it also reduces anxiety, improves sleep and concentration, and raises self-esteem. While these benefits are not exclusive to walking, walking is often the best way to encourage someone with a sedentary lifestyle to reap the cognitive and emotional rewards of physical activity. Walking is accessible and manageable. It is also conducive to overcoming cognitive distortions like “all or nothing thinking.” For example, if I can’t spend at least 30 minutes on an elliptical machine, I’m not going to go to the gym. I’m probably not going to drive to the gym to spend 5 minutes on a machine. But I can increase my walking quite easily in an incremental way and celebrate small improvements without falling victim to the “all or nothing” thinking. 

We can make use of movement not only to improve our physical and mental health, but also to improve our relationships. Walking outside is a great way to strike up conversations with your children about things that matter. Moving while we talk about important things can relieve the stress of difficult topics, and it presents a shared neutral space rather than the “territory” of a parent’s living room. The movement in general- whether you are walking or move in a different way (in a wheelchair or motorized scooter), moving alongside someone you love facilitates meaningful conversations. It lowers our defenses, and gives us the added visual of moving forward and leaving unpleasant things behind us.

It is solved by walking; by moving alongside, and conquering the “all or nothing.” Whether your steps are literal or metaphorical, I hope you are moving forward and being your best self. 

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