Take a Walk

overcome Jan 17, 2021

H! Angela here again. As we collectively try to overcome the overwhelm we see in the world, let us focus on one little habit that we can control and work into our daily lives: take a walk. Followers of my Instagram will regularly see posts reminding you to get outside 20 minutes a day. Personal friends will attest to my personal application of this habit. Let's take a few minutes to look at the science of how walking outdoors positively impacts our mental health and ability to perform.

Physical Manifestations of Overwhelm

Overwhelm physically mimics the process of grief in our body. The hormones in your body align to begin to protect you from the stress and stress-related hormones that activate when we are under stress. Your body's initial response is a sense of fatigue.


Your body seeks to protect you from stress by sending signals to you that are tired or need sleep. During sleep, your body is rebuilding its hormone profile. Stress on the body requires high levels of oxygen. Your body repairs stress from the day by using antioxidants. The process of repair requires dedicated energy.


The process of repair requires water. The water serves to carry nutrients into your system and importantly helps carry toxins out of your system. Although we are tempted to drink more coffee when we are tired and stressed, maintaining caffeine intake to a minimum and concentrating on a healthy water routine will lead to an improved ability to cope with the systems of overwhelm.


Moving your body has an interesting effect when you are tired. During overwhelm is not the time to start a highly rigorous fitness routine. It is the time to make small adjustments, understand how your body is responding, and the let the positive adjustments lead you in the path that is best for you. To get started, simply go for a walk.

Have a dog? Great, take the dog with you. Need a friend? Call a friend. Even in the era of Covid-19, you can call a friend or walk physically distant from each other.

You've heard the phrase, "get your blood moving" and it is true. It helps excite your lymph systems. By moving your muscles, you help the blood transport in and out of your cells, which in turn helps oxygen and nutrients more easily cross the cellular barrier. 

Move over Cortisol

When we walk, our body processes the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol plays an important part in the adrenaline process that is associated with fight or flight. When we are faced with constant pressure and constant stress (Hello? 2020...and now 2021?) our cortisol numbers do not have an opportunity to reduce, which leads in part to these feelings of overwhelm. We must overcome the cortisol overwhelm with intention.

Scientists have recently conducted a study that measured the cortisol levels of men before and after regularly scheduled walks. The cortisol profiles did not change drastically unless walks were longer than 20 minutes. The greatest impact for cortisol reduction relative to walking was 20 minutes, however, cortisol levels were observed to tail off as walking time approached 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, no statistically discernable differences in cortisol levels were observed.

Seeing Green

In another controlled study understanding stress, researchers polled participants regarding their current feelings of stress. For 20 minutes, the participants were asked to:

  1. Be in a green, outdoor environment
  2. Sit in a room and look at pictures of a green environment
  3. Sit in a room and look at pictures of cityscape.

Those participants who were physically in the green environment showed the greatest reduction of stress emotions. The participants looking at green pictures also reported a feeling of stress reduction, although a lower magnitude than those physically in the green. The third group did not report any improvement of stress.

What does this mean for you? To optimize your daily walk, try walking in a green environment. If you live in a city and cannot get to the park, start incorporating some green into your everyday surroundings. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Add a plant
  • Pause to look at the amazing screen savers the computers are presenting for us these days
  • Hang your own picture of green: friends hiking, recent vacation at the beach, etc.

Don't have a green thumb? Succulents are hardy! For less than a cup of coffee, you can put a plant on your desk and replace it as necessary.

Our Steps Forward

The greater we understand the physical manifestations of overwhelm, the better we are able to take intentional steps to reduce its physical impact to our daily lives. As we gather the energy from this success, we can move to identify the sources of stress and start the coping mechanisms of emotional and spiritual healing.

For this week, ask yourself how you can spend 20 minutes outdoors, moving your body. Can you incorporate a few more plants or green items into your life? Baby steps!


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Buckley, A. (2020). Mental Wanderings in the Woods. [web log]. Ginger and Oak. www.gingerandoakcompany.com

Ewert, A., & Chang, Y. (2018). Levels of Nature and Stress Response. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 8(5), 49. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8050049

Hiromitsu, K., Chorong, S., Harumi, I., Bum-Jin, P., Takahide, K., Yoshifumi, M. (2019). Combined Effect of Walking and Forest Environment on Salivary Cortisol Concentration. Frontiers in Public Health. DOI=10.3389/fpubh.2019.00376


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