Pine Nuts: A walk in the woods is the first step toward mental health

We have long known that exercise reduces anxiety, and now we are finding out why. Dr. Jennifer Heisz has been studying how a modest amount of exercise can help protect us from depression, anxiety, and various other mental health challenges. Turns out, it’s all thanks to neuropeptide Y, which is the pacifier that increases its flow during exercise and washes away stress like a hot shower.

Apparently, there is a part of the brain, the amygdala, don’t ask me to pronounce it, that recognizes danger and puts us on high alert. During the pandemic our amygdala has been working overtime to keep us on constant alert, resulting in constant anxiety. Neuropeptide Y serves to relax the amygdala and calm us down. And it doesn’t take much exercise at all to work its magic, a brisk walk three times a week will do the trick. Yes, Dr. Heisz is discovering that the exercise prescription for mental health is lower than the exercise prescription for physical health.

What did all of the world’s great philosophers have in common? All were walkers.

Personally, while I’m belting out the Mark Twain material that I’m preparing to use in my next program, I’m walking. Maybe it’s the neuropeptide Y energizing my amygdala, I don’t know, but the walking definitely facilitates my retention. Try walking the next time you are preparing a public talk. I bet you will be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is to memorize your material.

I was enrolled in pre-med during my first semester in college, until I got my first report card, and a counselor called me into his office to make a friendly suggestion. I’ll never forget his soft secretive whisper as he informed me of his assessment …

“Mr. Layne, it appears by your marks, that perhaps you should consider a change in your major. Instead of your struggling to become a doctor of medicine, you might want to consider becoming an auctioneer, or a carny barker. There’s money in it you know.”

Well, I never became an auctioneer or a carny barker, but I have always maintained a layman’s interest in medicine, and take two vitamin C Gummy Bears every morning without fail.

So please indulge me as I offer these four mental health suggestions…

Is watching too much war news, and internalizing it, getting you down? Take a walk.

Is trying to read newly gerrymandered electoral maps getting you down? Take a walk.

Is agonizing over climate catastrophe getting you down? Take a walk.

Is that piece of toilet paper stuck to your heel getting you down? Take a walk.

I would edit this page and correct all the spelling errors, but I have talked myself into exercising my amygdala instead, and talking a little walk in the woods …


Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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