By Tanya Braun, Head of Policy and Communications at Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Becoming a parent is a life changing experience. It’s a wonderful time for both mums and dads, and can bring such joy.

However, as a recent new parent myself, I found learning the ropes of parenthood was overwhelming, and even more physically and mentally demanding than I anticipated. With the late nights, early starts, constant feeds, and keeping the little one safe, it can be challenging to find some time for yourself and to prioritise your own wellbeing.

In the chaotic, busy and pressured time after having a child, it is so important to spend some time in the day to maintain your mental health.

One way to do this is by going for a 20-minute walk. Swapping a short car journey for a walk is a free, easy and accessible solution to ensure you remain active and healthy.

It allows you to get some exercise, break the monotony of the day and provides many physical health benefits, such as preventing long-term chronic health conditions like cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It also makes sure you leave your house and go out into the fresh air, to connect with nature, socialise and boost your mood.

This National Walking Month, here are the main mental health benefits of a short walk for new parents…

Reducing stress and anxiety

Walking for just 20 minutes a day can play a crucial role in reducing fatigue, anxiety and stress.

It stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals, including endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. These are known to boost your mood by encouraging positive and happy feelings in the body, to improve mental wellbeing and our ability to cope with symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Walking has also been shown to have a positive impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which is primarily responsible for the body’s stress response.

The repetitive, rhythmic movement of the feet as we walk also stimulates and balances both the left and right sides of the brain. This helps the brain to process emotional distress and decreases psychological arousal, helping our minds to relax and to improve mood.

Connecting with others

As a new parent, you spend a lot of time with just your baby and your partner. It can sometimes feel stifling and you can quickly miss social interaction with others.

By going for a walk with a friend, family member or loved one, you can take time out of your day to socialise with other people and have an adult conversation. This can boost feel-good brain chemicals.

It also provides an avenue for you to express your thoughts and get emotional support from those around you, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

You can also take your baby along for the walk in a pram or baby carrier to take them outdoors and ensure they’re also getting some fresh air too.

Relaxing in nature

If you can walk outside and swap the walls of your living room for some greenery, it can help you to relax and connect with nature and the world around you, to boost mental wellbeing and leave you feeling more at peace.

While on your walk, take time to absorb the sights, smells and sounds you encounter, as this redirects your mental awareness to the environment. This can help to quiet the mind and focus it on the present moment. This reduces heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, and brings a sense of calm and alleviates stress on the body.

Increasing energy

Being a new parent is very tiring, even when your baby has a more regular sleep schedule!

Instead of grabbing a coffee, going for a short walk is a healthier way to stay energised. Walking improves blood flow and circulation throughout your body, particularly to the muscles and brain, as well as increasing oxygenation of blood. This in turn boosts your mood, and helps you feel more energised and mentally ready for the day ahead.

Aiding sleep

Several studies have found many sleep benefits of walking for both women and men. For example, a study in the Sleep Health Journal noted that on days an individual walked more than their average number of steps, improvements were visible to sleeping patterns.

Taking a morning or afternoon walk where you are exposed to natural light can benefit the body’s circadian rhythm. This is the natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle every 24 hours.

Resetting the circadian rhythm through a brisk walk in the daytime can promote better sleep quality and duration, giving new parents some much needed quality rest.

May is Living Streets' National Walking Month. This year, we're encouraging the nation to #Try20 - and walk for 20 minutes each day during May.

RELATED: Walk to School Week: Four reasons why children should walk to school more

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