Now that the summer heat is gone, the weather outside is pretty much perfect. Not too hot, not too cold - just chilly enough that when you’re walking you don’t overheat. This makes walking a pleasure, not a chore. Combine that with the beautiful scenery (who doesn’t love the bright, burnt colors of autumn?!) and the great smells (crisp air, foliage crunching under your feet) - it makes for an environment that inspires, soothes and really lets you get lost in your thoughts.
The Many Benefits
There are many reasons to walk - to get from point A to point B is one (and probably the most popular); staying in shape is another. But walking is also good for your mind and emotional wellbeing - and it can be a great social activity! Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s set down all the benefits of walking into a list. Getting physical
Walking is physical exercise that’s easy and enjoyable rather than hard and painful. Studies have shown that regular walking (daily, weekly, what have you) delivers the same physical benefits as regular exercise of a more vigorous sort. For example, three, 15-minute walks each day will:
It’s all in your head
- help you lose weight
- lower your rate of weight gain (so you can keep it off)
- strengthen your glutes (aka your butt muscles)
- improves your balance
- control your blood-sugar levels
- lower your blood pressure
- lower triglyceride levels (this would be the amount of fat you have in your blood; high levels increase your risk of heart disease)
- boost your immune system
The great thing about exercise in general is the effect it has on our mood. We’ve all experienced it - that day where we woke up on the wrong side of our wonderful bed and everything just goes downhill from there. Exercise is known for helping us see that crappy day in a different, not-so-bleak light. Walking takes it a step further because it…
- boosts your mood for over 2 hours post-walk
- improves your memory (theory is that the increased blood flow to the brain supports and strengthens the memory center… though the fresh air probably doesn’t hurt)
- reduces stress (studies have shown that people saw their problems in a more positive light after a short, brisk walk)
- lowers your blood pressure
- lowers triglyceride levels (this would be the amount of fat you have in your blood; high levels increase your risk of heart disease)
- boosts your immune system
- allows you to think, without distractions (unlike with driving, riding a bike or even weight lifting, your body is on auto-pilot when you walk, so your mind is free to roam)
- gives you the chance to look at the world (if you’re not lost in thought)
Getting lost in thought is one path to tread; another is meditating while you walk. Also known as mindful walking, it’s one of four styles of meditation, according to Buddhists. Mindful walking includes focusing on your body and breathing, much in the way yoga encourages you to do the same. Here are the steps to mindful walking, should you be interesting in exploring a little meditation while you exercise.
- Choose a route that will take you in a large circle or one just walking up and down your sidewalk (straight line style).
- Start walking and settle into a pace that gives you a sense of ease - too slow and you might feel like you’re not moving; too fast and you will get lost in trying to breath. Don’t worry if your speed changes while you walk - that’s natural and totally ok. The goal is to find a pace that allows you to be inside your body without getting distracted by discomfort or tiredness.
- Once you’ve found your pace, turn your mind inward - one guru suggestions thinking of it as “letting your body take you for a walk.” Only once you’ve achieved this connection should you move on to the next step.
- Slide your attention downward and hone in on your feet and lower legs. The movement of your feet as you take each step will be your anchor during mindful walking. Let your mind and body feel every sensation of walking - the tensing of muscles, the flexing of your toes in your shoes, the lift of the foot, the thunk as it hits the ground (or no thunk, depending on how you walk and the surface you’re on!). Settle into these sensations and, when your mind wanders, yank it back by focussing on these sensations again.
- If you need help staying on your toes (so to speak), try labelling each movement or nuance of your walking pace: lifting, moving, placing. This can be your mantra while you walk to keep you centered.
The key to meditation while walking is to let go of everything else - to focus only on your body and be mindful of yourself. How often to you go walking each week? Share your walking stories with us!