Why Taking A Walk In The Park Might Be The Best Self-Care Strategy EVER (According To Science)

Corporate Psychologist By Patricia Thompson, Ph.D.
Corporate Psychologist
Patricia Thompson, Ph.D., is a corporate psychologist, management consultant, executive coach, and author. She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Georgia State University.
Why Taking A Walk In The Park Might Be The Best Self-Care Strategy EVER (According To Science)

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In my journey as an entrepreneur, I’ve experienced my fair share of disappointments. Whether client deals that have fallen through, product launches that performed worse than expected, or article pitches that were rejected, dealing with setbacks is just part of business. So, learning how to be resilient in the face of apparent failure has long been a necessity for me.

In fact, shortly before I began writing this article, I was told I wasn’t a fit for an opportunity I had been looking forward to for months. After getting my balance back from that punch-to-the-gut feeling, I laced up my running shoes, put on my headphones, went to a nearby park, and took a walk. Twenty minutes later, I came back feeling clearheaded and inspired with new ideas about what to do next.

It might sound like magic, but there are several reasons my walk helped me come back feeling positive and motivated, according to science:

1. The mere act of walking itself has been shown to boost mood.

By now, most of us know about the pleasure-boosting endorphins that accompany physical exercise, and that was definitely a factor. But I also upped the ante in that category by listening to upbeat music and bouncing happily to it while I walked. In one research study, a sample of undergraduate students who were physically manipulated (unbeknownst to them) to walk with a "depressed" style (slumped shoulders) recalled more emotionally negative words than a group who walked with a "happy" style (upright and bouncy gait). In other words, how you walk can potentially affect the sorts of things you remember, and in turn, the researchers would suspect, your mood.


2. That I chose to walk in nature was also important.

In one study researchers found that after walking outside in a natural environment, participants exhibited less anxiety, rumination, and negative mood when compared to a control group who had walked for the same amount of time in an urban environment. Another study found that walking outside boosted mood as well as self-esteem. In particular, the presence of water seemed to enhance the effects. So if you're feeling down or disappointed, get outside and take in the beauty of nature.

3. While I was walking, I also focused on mindfulness.

As I walked, instead of thinking about how much I disagreed with the feedback I had received or how initially bummed I had been, I made an effort to stay in the present. I focused on the scenery around me, the music I was listening to, the feeling of my body as I walked, and made an effort to breathe deeply. Again, science would suggest that this is a good approach. In one study, an eight-week trial of mindful walking was linked to decreased symptoms of psychological stress and increased quality of life.

So, if you want to prepare yourself for being able to deal with the inevitable disappointments that arise in life, practicing mindfulness will help get you ready for this. (I practice mindfulness regularly and have personally experienced some of the benefits that research suggests in helping me to regulate my emotions.)


4. I came back from my walk with new ideas about next steps.

Researchers found that adults performed better on a measure of divergent thinking (creativity) while walking and for a little while after the fact. This effect was not affected by environment—you can experience it walking indoors on a treadmill or outdoors.

Bottom line? I think Nietzsche was definitely onto something when he wrote, "All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking." Taking a walk will not only help you to nurture your body, but it will also improve your mood and up your creativity. So, what are you waiting for?

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