Q: Listen, sometimes during the day at work I get so bogged down and overwhelmed that I can’t even think. Is there anything I can do to take a break besides going out and smoking a cigarette?
A: Put… the cigarettes… down. There are better ways of refreshing both your body and your mind. In fact, there’s scientific evidence for a simple, free, easy method available to you that may work better than nicotine, drinking a pot of coffee, or sitting around in the break room.
- Mental fatigue is just as real as physical fatigue. After working hard and exercising your mind, your body will eventually be depleted of energy.
- An 8-hour work day can be pretty draining, and people have different strategies to cope with it:
- Just “soldiering” through. Except this method may result in errors, fatigue, irritation, and all-around poor mental health.
- Chemicals: caffeine, nicotine, etc. The problem is, these can be addictive and aren’t the healthiest thing around (especially when consumed with sugar, tobacco smoke, or fat).
- Sitting around in a break room. The problem here is that you’re going from sitting around at your office or cubicle to sitting around in a different chair. You’re just transferring from one chair to another!
- A long line of research has discovered that there is a simple, easy, free way to really restore your cognitive health, attention, and reduce fatigue: taking a walk.
- One study, published in the journal Health & Place (which studies the effects of various environments on health) in 2011 examined the effects of walking on psychological restoration.
- In this study, the researchers decided to examine the effects of walking on two groups of people: those who were psychologically healthy vs. those who had poorer mental health.
- In this study, the setting was rural.
- 123 adults participated in this study. 83 were deemed to have good mental health (on the basis of a common measure of mental health) and 40 were deemed to have poorer mental health.
- First, all participants did a mood survey to capture what their mood was before taking the walk. The survey included questions regarding energy, stress, and happiness or sadness.
- Participants also took a test that measured their mental state of reflection, including their ability to plan a project, take on challenges, enjoy themselves, and their experience of stress.
- Participants also took a test of self-esteem.
- Then, all the participants were taken on a 1-hour rural walk. It wasn’t particularly rigorous and the weather was nice. The participants didn’t all walk at once – they were taken in phases.
- There were significant improvements in stress, energy, mood, and self-esteem among participants in both groups. Those in the poor mental health group showed even greater improvements than the other group.
- The second study was similar, only this time they wanted to see the difference between walking in an urban vs. a rural environment.
- The researchers hypothesized that rural environments would have an advantage over urban ones.
- Two environments for walking were chosen: one through an urban area, and one through a rural area.
- Neither was particularly challenging and days with good weather were chosen.
- Once again, a group of participants (this time there were 24) were gathered and given the same tests for self-esteem, reflection, stress, and mood.
- There were some with good mental health, and some with poorer mental health.
- In this study, the same participants were in both walking conditions. Participants were taken on a one-hour walk through one of the environments (rural or urban) and the effect of the walk was measured. Then a week later, the same participants were taken on the second walk through the other environment.
- Walking in a rural environment was better for mental health than walking in an urban environment.
- Those with good mental health benefitted from the urban walk to a degree, but the effect was not statistically significant.
- However, those in the poorer mental health group significantly benefitted from both walks.
- This study shows that there are significant benefits of taking a walk.
- Taking a walk in a rural area is best for mental health, but an urban walk can help someone too, especially if that person is feeling they have poor mental health (this could even just be sadness or feeling anxious).
- Taking a walk will improve your self-esteem, improve your mood, and restore your mental abilities.
- So the next time you’re feeling stressed, drained, and overworked, consider putting the coffee and cigarettes down and taking a brisk walk.
Roe, J., & Aspinall, P. (2011). The restorative benefits of walking in urban and rural settings in adults with good and poor mental health. Health & Place, 103-113. Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com.libez.lib.georgiasouthern.edu/science/article/pii/S1353829210001322