If you are feeling sad, worried or anxious, one of the best natural remedies is to walk. Get away, literally, from the source of the problem and immerse yourself in nature. There is nothing better than a good walk to relieve pain, get rid of accumulated stress and recharge your batteries.
In fact, it is known that exercise, and walking in particular, is an excellent therapy for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Brisk walking has been shown to promote the release of endorphins, hormones that make us feel happy and relaxed, while reducing the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Furthermore, neuroscientists at Princeton University believe that the effects of a healthy walk go far beyond the momentary production of some neurotransmitters, in fact they believe that walking regularly can even help regenerate the brain, helping us to cope better, and with less stress, the problems of the everyday life.
The "calming neurons" in the brain
These researchers worked with two groups of guinea pigs, one group remained active and the other was destined for a sedentary life. After walking, the scientists analyzed their brains and found that in the animals that had exercised some neurons were activated that inhibit the activity of overly excited nerve cells.
They later added some environmental stress and found activation of excitable neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in emotional responses. However, the animals that walked were also able to cope better with this brain activation as the "calming neurons" were also activated to prevent the impact of the situation from being excessive and to keep stress under control.
These findings, which neuroscientists also consider valid for humans, could explain why walking helps us relax and forget worries and pains. Everything indicates that when we walk the "calming neurons" are activated in the brain which inhibit the excitation of the neurons that are at the basis of worries, ruminations and stress.
This indicates that physical activity helps reorganize the brain, so people who walk and exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from high levels of anxiety, and stress will interfere less with their daily lives. Basically, walking strengthens the inhibition mechanism that prevents the most excitable nerve cells from becoming overactive.
To make the most of the walk it is best to choose a path surrounded by nature
Walking on a treadmill within the four walls of a gym is not the same as walking in the city or surrounded by nature. Neuroscientists at Heriot-Watt University demonstrated this by monitoring the brain activity of 12 people as they walked for 25 minutes in a shopping mall, green space, and busy street. The mobile EEG monitored their emotions and states such as frustration, meditation, enthusiasm and attention.
Thus they found that relaxation and meditation were more intense when subjects walked through green spaces. These people also felt less frustration. This happens because in the green spaces our brain is able to completely detach and activate what is called "involuntary attention", having the possibility to move more freely in a state quite similar to that of mindfulness meditation. On the contrary, in the streets and in the shopping centers we have to remain more attentive, so we do not have the possibility to completely disconnect from our worries and we do not allow our brain to rest.