With gyms closed for much of this year, and moments of physical activity like stair climbing or commuting removed from our daily schedules, many of us find ourselves living increasingly sedentary lifestyles. While some of us yearn to get back to spin class or lifting on the gym floor, physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to pay off. Significant improvements to life expectancy, sleep quality, disease reduction, bone strength, weight management and mental well-being can be achieved with modest efforts of cardiovascular activity, the simplest of which is walking.
The AHA and CDC recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity walking a week to reap these benefits, but let’s be clear: firstly, any amount of physical activity is better than no activity, and second, if two and half hours a week seems too tight to fit into your schedule, feel free to break it up into small chunks throughout the day. The benefits add up, and so, a small walk in the morning to get some sunlight can be appended to taking the stairs a couple of times, walking the dog in the afternoon, and taking a longer stroll in the evening. Aside from daily habits, keep your eyes open to opportunities you can take whenever they present themselves, like parking a little farther away than you normally would to get those extra steps in or making a few extra rounds around the park if you find yourself there.
Aside from the physiological benefits that aerobic exercise can provide — a strengthened cardiovascular system, increased bone density, and weight loss — the benefits walking can provide mental health are not to be understated. Recent research conducted with EEG devices has strengthened the claim that walks contribute to stress management. Researchers found that walks in spaces with greenery elicit meditative brain wave patterns, which may provide restorative effects on stores of stress and attention.
Why not compound on this natural phenomenon by making your strolls meditative ones?
Walking meditation refers to the practice of focusing, during walks, on immediate surroundings, and the physical feelings you feel when taking each step on your walk. Many practitioners recommend walking several paces, pausing, breathing deeply, then retracing your steps (literally) on the path back. Pay mind to how your feet lift, make contact with the ground, and support your body weight. When your mind strays from your immediate physicality, gently bring your attention back to your actions. The goal is to cultivate a habit of mindfulness that increases feelings of well-being and gives you control over your thought patterns.
Now that the weather is on the upswing, it’s the perfect time to put this into practice. Try integrating walking meditation into your routine if you already go on walks, and if not, reap the benefits of a stroll a couple of times a week. Either way, the aerobic exercise will bring physical benefits, and the act of walking, preferably in a natural space, will be mentally restorative.