What are the best steps you can take to relieve stress? Out your front door and around the block.

By Amanda Junker

Stress Less

It's been proven that those who regularly walk for exercise have lower stress levels than couch potatoes. So instead of sitting and debating whether you have time to work out, put on your shoes and walk away your worries.

Day 1

30-minute walk. Pick your speed. Visualize a straight line running from your shoulders to your hipbones and through your ankles as you walk.Stress Buster: "When your posture is correct your muscles relax you can breathe easier," says Danny Dreyer, coauthor of ChiWalking (Fireside/Simon & Schuster).

Day 2

40-minute walk. Move briskly. Warm up for 10 minutes (at 60 steps per minute). For the next 20 minutes walk swiftly for 1 minute (about 70 steps per minute) and then slow it down for 1 minute (60 steps per minute). Continue alternating. Cool down for 10 minutes by walking at a comfortably slow pace.Stress Buster: Picking up the pace will distract you from negative thoughts, reducing the anxiety that can lead to heart disease.

Day 3

30-minute walk. Take it easy. Be aware of your surroundings, says Dreyer. Don't stare at the ground as you walk. Instead, focus on the faraway mailbox, the close-up street sign, and the car as it passes and then travels away from you.Stress Buster: "This visual exercise puts the world in perspective and triggers an internal reaction that will draw you away from anxiety and stress," says Dreyer.

Day 4

55-minute walk. Go longer. Speed isn't important, just attempt to go farther than usual. The more distance you cover, the more calories you burn.Stress Buster: A long session will release feel-good serotonin and betaendorphin, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and improve circulation, for an overall feeling of well-being.

Day 5

30-minute walk. Meditate. Begin with 10 minutes of breathing out for six steps and breathing in for six steps, always through the nose. For the rest of the walk visualize a waterfall going down your spine, washing away the tensions of the day.Stress Buster: Taking deep breaths from your belly will increase your overall energy level.

Day 6

40-minute walk. Scan your body. Walk 10 minutes at a comfortable pace. Then think about relaxing every body part, from the top of your head right down to your toes. Take your time and visualize each muscle softening. Repeat.Stress Buster: This exercise will ease tension that tends to build up in the back and neck.

Day 7

30-minute walk. Choose your pace. Breathe deeply and fully from your belly, and concentrate on every single exhalation for your entire walk.Stress Buster: This meditation is harder than it sounds, but it's worth it. Focusing on each out breath will reduce the "chatter" in your brain and prevent your mind from drifting, says Dreyer.

Relax Already!

For better walking posture, do this move before your walk to release back and shoulder tension. And do it again whenever you need to ease your body and mind.

  • Kneel on all fours, with your shoulders above your wrists and hips above your knees. Walk hands forward a few inches.
  • Exhale and lean buttocks back toward heels without letting elbows touch the ground. Drop your forehead to the floor.
  • Breathe deeply, feeling the spine (slightly curved) lengthen in both directions. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.