Walking is something we all take for granted in our daily lives. It is a practical and intuitive way from getting from point A to point B. It is something so ingrained in our routine that it doesn’t warrant a second thought. Today I would like to suggest that we do give walking a second thought and examine it closer, paying heed to its many benefits for both the body and spirit.
Creating a Walking Routine
Not all walking is created equal and today we will be looking at establishing a focused and intentional walking routine. While a walking routine involves the same physical steps as a trip to the grocery store or mailbox, it is something deeper, more cultivated, and more mentally engaged.
A walking routine is an activity that you must carve out time for. It is not unlike a yoga session or a morning run. It is a concerted activity that involves focus and dedication. We recommend a minimum of twenty minutes a day to reap the benefits for your well being. You can combine a leisurely stroll with a more brisk pace for the most far-reaching results.
A Note on Routes
A walking routine offers up endless flexibility and choice. You can play with the length, the pace, and the route. One important consideration that will help you get the most out of your walking routine is to choose a route that stimulates you in some beneficial way. A route should offer up either solitude, cultural or social stimulation, or aesthetic pleasure depending on your specific needs. We recommend avoiding busy intersections or stressful routes. A walking routine should not increase irritation or frustration so keep this in mind when choosing your route.
A Note on Preparation
Walking is a wonderful low impact alternative to jogging and running and is easier on the joints. That being said, you must take simple precautions to ensure you are getting the most out of your routine. A comfortable pair of shoes is essential to offering support and balance.
Partaking in some light stretching before and after your walk will ease your body into the routine and will minimize your likelihood of experiencing fatigue and joint pain.
Benefits of a Walking Routine
Emotional Regulation and Mood Improvement
Walking is like taking a pause from the flurry of emotions, stress, and thoughts that can plague us on more difficult days. Walking relaxes the nervous system and allows us to experience our feelings and thoughts more objectively. It diffuses the emotional charge which is invaluable when we are feeling angry, upset, or frustrated. How?
Walking decreases the presence of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. This naturally reduces stress and allows us to lose that sense of urgency and anxiety that can become second nature in our busy lives.
Along with neutralizing our emotional responses, walking allows us to get in touch with ourselves on a deeper level. When we walk without the distractions of a phone or music we are given the space to look inside ourselves. It is surprising how easy it is to forget to check in with ourselves in our daily lives.
From our social and family commitments to errands and responsibilities sometimes we lose track of how we really feel. Walking allows us to take pause and work through our thoughts in a healthy and gentle way.
Staves off Heart Disease and Lowers Blood Pressure
This may be one of the walking’s most powerful benefits. Walking a minimum of thirty minutes a day can lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. Walking also reduces hypertension by releasing stress from the sympathetic nervous system. The benefits of walking for the heart grow with distance. Studies have found that walking a distance of 1.5 miles a day will help you reap the most tangible benefits for long-term heart health.
Walking does wonders for your digestive system! Walking promotes gastric mobility, which in turn, keeps your digestive system working smoothly. Walking engages your core muscles, albeit without the high impact of cardio or strength training, making it a safe exercise to partake in after a large meal.
In addition to its emotionally regulating effects, walking has been demonstrated to naturally alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety. A peer-reviewed study published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that a daily walking routine reduced depression in subjects so profoundly that it could be considered a natural antidepressant.
Increases Creativity and Problem Solving
Sometimes it can feel like we are stuck in a mental rut. We chew on the same problem and we search for innovative solutions in vain. Walking is a powerful antidote to the creative roadblocks we all experience. Whether you are trying to tap into new ideas in your quest for creative fulfillment or you need to find an original solution to a problem, walking can allow you to access a new frame of mind that will support you in your quest.
Walking improves divergent and convergent types of thinking which are both precursors to an increase in creative capacities. Walking also increases the presence of gray matter in the brain which improves cognitive function and improves memory recall.
As if the above benefits weren’t enticing enough, walking also improves your sleep and reduces the time it takes to fall into a restful sleep. A soothing evening walk can lower your stress levels (remember cortisol?) and give you room to breathe deeply and wind down before bed.