A short walk a day keeps the blues away. That’s the conclusion of a study showing that one of the biggest benefits of walking for senior women is a reduction in anxiety, stress, and depression. “With the aging population, physical activity represents one way for women to stay mentally healthy,” says Deborah Nelson, PhD, a public health researcher at Temple University and the lead author of this study. “Physical activity can help throughout the menopausal transition and afterwards.”
The study, which followed 380 Philadelphia women for approximately eight years, found that the women didn’t have to join a gym to enjoy the benefits of walking. Those in an urban setting walked city blocks or inside shopping malls. Some organized groups to take walks together after dinner. “You don’t have to run 20 miles a week to reap the benefits of exercise,” says Nelson. “If you stick to a moderate-paced walking schedule, it can keep your body-mass index down and lower the risk of stress, anxiety, and depression.”
Walk Off Stress
When considering a walking regimen, most women think in terms of the physical benefits of walking, such as lowering blood pressure to reduce the risk of stroke, lowering cholesterol to improve cardiovascular health, or taking pressure off their joints. But according to the Arthritis Foundation, the mental benefits of walking are equally valuable. During the Temple University study, the benefits of walking were greatest in postmenopausal women with high levels of activity, who reported that their perceived stress levels were lower than those of their less active peers.
Change Your Outlook
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking only 30 minutes a day can significantly boost the moods of those who are depressed. Walking releases endorphins, natural pain- and stress-fighting chemicals in the brain. In fact, a study conducted by California State University at Long Beach found that the more steps people took during the day — or the longer the walk — the better their mood.
Another reason strolling every day can lighten your mood is that it can foster a more positive outlook. The Arthritis Foundation describes one woman, Carolyn S. Kortge, who exemplifies how effective walking can be. She began a regular walking routine in the 1980s, participated in her first race-walking competition in the 1990s, and continued to walk daily despite being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2004. She found that walking helped keep her mind off the pain in her knees and hands because it provided an opportunity for meditation or prayer. “It’s a wonderful way of changing your focus,” she told the Arthritis Foundation.
Sleep Better at Night
Relieving stress, as well as reducing depression and anxiety, may be the secret behind one of the other great benefits of walking for senior women — a better night’s sleep. In one study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, women ages 50 to 75 who walked briskly for at least 30 minutes in the morning were more likely to relieve their insomnia than women who didn’t walk.
Putting one foot in front of the other, it turns out, is definitely a step in the right direction for improving your mental well-being, day or night.