Walking Effects on Sleep and Energy

Walking can improve sleep, increase energy, and improve the overall quality of your life. Health-care professionals use the term "health-related quality of life" to refer to how your health, sense of satisfaction with life, and overall sense of well-being impacts your daily life.

People who are physically active obviously enjoy better health. It is also important to note that physically active individuals report feeling better about themselves and have a more positive outlook on life.

Physical fitness and increased health are not the only payoffs of starting and maintaining a lifelong fitness walking program. Various types of aerobic exercise, including walking, have also been found to promote mental health -- boosting energy, improving sleep, relieving tension and stress, and combating anxiety and depression. Mastering a walking program can give you the true sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something good for your body.

A few years ago, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) convened a panel to examine the effects of exercise on mental health. The panel noted a real, proven link between physical fitness and mental health and well-being. Exercise was deemed generally beneficial for the emotional health of people of all ages and both sexes.

Many people suffer from a type of chronic fatigue that isn't caused by illness or disease. They endure the blahs during the day and then toss and turn at night -- only to wake up the next morning feeling groggy and drained. These individuals might be surprised to learn, however, that a great way to increase their daytime energy levels is to expend energy on regular exercise like walking.

In a recent study conducted at the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, aerobic exercises, including fast walking, were found to combat chronic fatigue in 400 men and women who were initially out of shape but who boosted their physical fitness over a two-and-a-half year period.

The researchers favor the following scenario to explain this energy rise: Through routine aerobic exercise, the study participants increased their physical fitness, which improved their self-esteem. They felt better about themselves and developed a more optimistic, energetic frame of mind.

In addition, the exercisers enhanced the strength and endurance of their muscles and developed the ability to move more efficiently, thus making their daily activities easier to perform -- and approach.

Other studies have also supported a link between aerobic exercise, enhanced physical stamina, and a more energetic frame of mind.

Several explanations have been proposed for the association between aerobic exercise and increased alertness. Exercise may act by improving circulation and increasing the availability of oxygen to the brain. Increased alertness may also be a side benefit of the raised metabolic rate that occurs during--and after--a bout of exercise. Exercise also causes the body to produce several chemicals, including adrenaline, which promote mental alertness.

Improving Sleep

Walking can also boost your daytime energy levels by helping you sleep longer and sounder at night. When the President's Council on Physical Fitness asked seven medical experts to ra­te the sleep-promoting abilities of a whole gamut of physical activities, walking beat out many popular sports, such as handball, squash, basketball, calisthenics, tennis, downhill skiing, softball, golf, and bowling.

The only activities that garnered better ratings than walking were jogging, swimming, bicycling, skating, and cross-country skiing.

Some people do find, however, that performing intense exercise just before bedtime revs them up so much that they have difficulty falling asleep. So if you intend to walk at a brisk pace, you may need to schedule your walks for at least an hour before you plan to retire for the evening. On the other hand, an easy-paced, late night stroll may be just the thing to relax your body and clear your mind so you can fall asleep.

Stress often interferes with sleep, and with everyday life. Next, learn how you can keep stress levels low by walking.

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