Do you enjoy good books and long walks on the beach?
There are a lot of reasons to go walking. For some people, it is a necessary method of transportation. Others find long walks relaxing. Folk wisdom has always known that walks can be calming and healthy.
You may have noticed this firsthand. After a long and taxing day, you decide to go for a walk through the park. The birds are singing, the afternoon sun is out, and suddenly you feel like all your problems are much more manageable. Or maybe you take a walk on your lunch break and return to a renewed sense of productivity.
It's not hyperbolic to say that long walks (and shorter ones, too) can change your life. Incorporating a calming walk into your daily or weekly routine has tangible health benefits, both physical and mental.
We humans, are sensory beings. All around us, there are sights, smells, and sounds that drift in from our surroundings. Unfortunately, during the busy shuffle of daily life, we often train ourselves to block out these stimuli. The noisy traffic, the talking from the conference room down the hall, we often slip into a state of ignorance to keep these bothersome distractions from affecting us.
If you've ever taken the time to reconnect with nature, you've experienced the pure joy of all your senses flooding back. A long walk through a park, garden, trail, or path can take you to sights and sounds to calm you.
We tend to block out unnatural stimuli. The smell of the city smog or the sound of an overactive office printer annoys our minds. In fact, exposure to artificial sounds pushes the brain to direct its focus inwards, which commonly happens in people with anxiety and depression¹. Natural, "green" sounds, however, promote relaxation and calmness.
A lengthy walk outdoors can get you your daily dose of sunlight. The sun provides us with vitamin D and can have a profound effect on our moods². People who stay cooped up indoors all the time may find themselves more depressed. Many people also notice their moods sink as winter comes along. So when there's sunlight, a long walk can keep you happy and healthy.
So far, we've been discussing gorgeous walks through sunlit parks and long strolls through blooming gardens. But what if you live in the middle of a noisy city? Suppose the weather is awful. If the picturesque countryside is too far away or stuck in an office cubicle, should you still bother walking?
The answer is yes. While soaking up sunlight and surrounding yourself with calming, natural sounds is ideal, a walk through dreary conditions isn't worthless. Studies have shown that walking is still beneficial to your health and mood regardless of the conditions. According to Psychology Today, just getting up from your chair and strolling down the office hall can lift your mood³.
To get even more benefits from your walks, consider the following "add-ons."1.) Walk with a friend
Adding a walking buddy to your journeys can boost your mood even further through camaraderie. Social interaction is vital for mental wellbeing. So grab a friend or pick up the phone before you set off.2.) Consider walking as part of your exercise routine
Walking is a heart-healthy activity in and of itself. If you plan to do further exercises, a good walk can be the perfect warm-up or cool down.
3.) Add some music
If your environment is less than relaxing, consider compensating with whatever music calms you. Guided meditations can be helpful on walks, as well. Just make sure you are still alert to your surroundings.
4.) Track your steps
Keeping the score of your walks with a step counter or measuring your total distance can give you a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. You'll feel good about staying healthy.
The world is a busy place. We all have commitments, problems, and people who depend on us. Of course, running from responsibilities is never the answer. Still, sometimes a short break can be just what the doctor ordered.
Stress is inevitable in life, and if you're waiting for a time when you have no worries or concerns, you'll be waiting a very long time. Instead, give yourself a break from who you are and what you have to do. Lose yourself in a nice walk and give your mind and body a chance to rest and heal before returning to the real world's noise. You'll find yourself more productive after returning.
You don't have to be a spiritual person to connect with the earth like this. You only have to be willing to wander along a path, familiar or unknown, and let yourself be at ease.
(1) University of Sussex (March 2017) It's true: The sound of nature helps us relax
(2) Mead MN (April 2008) Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health
(3) Andrews, LW (August 2016) Walking Can Lift Your Mood, Even When You Don't Expect It To