10.000 steps towards happiness

Like many before me I can’t count the amount of times I have made the resolution to start exercising more- only to stop after a week or two. Even though I know that exercise boosts energy, decreases stress, is a natural antidepressant and has several other health benefits I find it hard to beat my inner coach potato; it is a lot easier after a long day to just sit down and relax than to roll out the yoga mat or put on running shoes. Part of the problem I think is, that we tend to “should all over ourselves” (a term coined by Jennifer Pastiloff). We put so much pressure on ourselves thinking about all the things we “should be doing”, that we end up feeling guilty when we don’t manage to do those things. The other thing is, it feels overwhelming to add exercise as another item on an already long to-do list and on some days feels like a stressful task.

One thing that has greatly helped me is a pedometer. It’s not an expensive one and I bought it to get a sense of how much I walk every day and to give me a little motivation. It gives me a small surge of happiness when I reach my 10. 000 steps for the day. It gives me the feeling of having achieved something, especially on those days where I haven’t managed to work through my to do list. 10.000 seems like a lot, but is an attainable goal. I have started walking to and from university, which takes about half an hour one way, but it gives me time in the morning to prepare for my day and go through the things that have to be done and on the way home to reflect or switch off after a long day. It is a lot less hectic start into my day, and gives me some time to myself. Nietzsche said: “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”- and this is backed up by science, the hormones released during exercise help people think more clearly! Small errands or shopping I try to mostly do by foot. All these small things add up and I am often surprised how quickly I sometimes reach 10.000 steps. It has taken a lot of stress out of the feeling of “having to exercise”.

There are days where I barely make it out of bed and don’t even take 1000 steps. And that is okay. I think that is the important message: we don’t need to give ourselves a hard time when we don’t manage to do something, it is okay and human and happens to everyone. The other thing is to start small, I started with 5000 steps and worked myself up to 10.000. Today I’ve only taken 6299 steps, that is okay and maybe tomorrow I will take a few more.

A Multi-study analysis from the UK in 2010 looked at the effect of exercise in nature (green exercise) on self-esteem and mood. It showed the most benefits from short bouts of green exercise, with the greatest changes in mood and self-esteem seen after 5 min of light exercise and a slight decrease in comparison, but still overall increase, with a longer time period and an increase in exercise intensity. All forms of environment (forest, park, farm etc.) showed an improvement in mood and self-esteem; especially in the presence of water. The analysis also shows that people with mental health problems had the greatest positive effect on self-esteem.

So the good news for us is that even short walks in the park can make a big difference on our mental health- we don’t have to train for a half-marathon!


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