Stepping Down Stress


How Putting One Foot in Front of the Other Can Help the Brain Relax


We all deal with stress in our lives, whether you’re racing to pick up your kids from childcare, studying for an exam, or trying to hit a tight deadline at work. How we deal with these tense times can impact our overall health. Exposure to chronic, negative stress can eventually lead to emotional and physical problems.


“If you are feeling stress, make sure to schedule quality time for yourself — where the priority is you and only you,” says Dr. Kim Ariyabuddhiphongs, Medical Director of the Cheng and Tsui Center for Integrative Care at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Different people have different ways to de-stress, such as reading or listening to music. Taking a walk is also a great idea.”


In fact, a number of studies, including a new one this month, suggest a brisk walk may change the makeup of brain chemicals and nerve cells, helping to dull feelings of anxiety.


Princeton researchers worked with two groups of mice — one active and one sedentary. The mice were put into cold water. As expected, a large number of excitable neurons were triggered in both sets of mice. However, in the more active group, the mice who had been walking and running around the cage prior to the test, a different type of neuron — calming neurons — were also quickly released, warding off unnecessary anxiety.


In addition, brisk walking also can lower the level of the stress hormone cortisol, according to multiple studies.


Another study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine earlier this year, suggested that choosing to walk in areas where there is greenery — as opposed to city streets — has an added benefit. Wearing monitors to track brain activity, researchers found that the subjects who walked through greener areas were less frustrated and more engaged than those who took a city route.


“Whether you walk outside in the fresh air or inside your local mall, what is most important is to just do it,” says Ariyabuddhiphongs.


Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care and before starting any exercise program, consult your doctor.