The path to better mental health can start with a walk

There is plenty of evidence on the many physical benefits of regular exercise, but what about the mental health benefits? More studies are showing that exercise can reduce anxiety, depression, low mood, and improve self-esteem and cognitive function. We spoke with Sam Cervantes, Senior Manager of Disability Client Relationships and Health and Wellness at Pacific Blue Cross, to get his thoughts on the relationship between mental health and walking, and how to incorporate it into your daily life.


Regular exercise is a staple of a good mental health routine

Perhaps the last thing you want to do when it’s raining and dark outside is to go for a walk, but the benefits can far outweigh any temporary cons. “Even going for a quick walk on your lunch break can clear your mind, improve your mood, and boost your energy level,” says Sam. “Any regular exercise can serve as a healthy distraction and coping mechanism, providing an opportunity to break away from negative thought patterns and stressors.”

Regular exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be beneficial

Good news – you don’t have to become a marathon runner to get the benefits of regular exercise. Research shows that any moderate activity that raises your heart rate can yield benefits – gardening, house chores, and yes, even walking. If there’s one lesson we can learn from the blue zones, regions around the world with extraordinary longevity, it’s that having light movement built into your day can even lead to a longer, happier life.

“Even short sets of activity can have a positive impact,” says Sam. “Think of them as movement snacks – while a 10km run might feel like biting off more than you can chew right now, know that starting with small movement snacks can positively impact overall health.”

The relationship between physical activity and social connections

There’s a key relationship between mental health, social connections and physical activity, which is part of why spin classes, bootcamps and group classes have such large followings.

“There may be different barriers to group fitness classes for some people, but there are so many ways to get the benefits of social connection and physical exercise without having to attend any in-person classes. Join a local walking club, participate in an online yoga class with a roommate, or register to Walk with Pacific Blue Cross in the Vancouver Sun Run. The Sun Run has a positive atmosphere and with options for runners, walkers, wheelchair users, and young children. There are so many ways to connect with family and friends.”

While walking is a valuable tool for mental health, it’s not a substitute for professional care. A personal health plan can help remove financial barriers to comprehensive support through a licensed mental health professional.

Pacific Blue Cross has a mental health resource page, including a mental health checklist, to support your mental health journey. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call 911.



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