If there was ever a time when walking should be done mindfully, it would be now. As we move into the new year, it’s important to take stock of our health and wellness goals.

We all know that walking is good for us. But what if you could walk while meditating and relaxing? Well, you can! In fact, mindfulness meditation has been proven to improve physical and mental health.

This article will teach you how to start mindful walking right away.

person practicing mindful walking

Mindful walking is a gentle, non-traumatic activity that has numerous benefits, especially when done in nature. Meditation, physical activity, and relaxation are all part of mindful walking.

Meditation: a matter of awareness

Without mindfulness, we cannot meditate effectively. We cannot focus our attention on the breath, nor can we be aware of the present moment.

For us Westerners, less accustomed to certain practices, meditation consists of choosing a topic and reflecting on it in silence and stillness. However, meditation must first be preceded by the practice of “conscious presence,” or in other words, mindfulness.

Without mindfulness, we cannot meditate effectively. We cannot focus our attention on the breath, nor can we remain present in the moment.

What is Mindfulness?

In general, we can define mindfulness as being aware of the present moment.
Mindfulness has been around for centuries but only recently has it become mainstream. In fact, mindfulness is now being used by people across the globe to improve their health, happiness, productivity, relationships, and overall well-being.

It’s easy to see why. When we’re stressed, anxious, or depressed, our brains release chemicals called neurotransmitters that cause us to feel bad. But when we practice mindfulness, we train our brains to notice these feelings and respond differently.

This means that we can actually start feeling better without having to rely on medication or therapy. As a result, mindfulness has become increasingly popular among both professionals and laypeople alike.

However, while mindfulness is becoming more widespread, it’s still relatively unknown. This is because most people don’t know where to begin.

Without mindfulness, we cannot meditate effectively. We cannot focus our attention on the breath, nor can we remain present in the moment.

What is Mindful Walking?

Mindful walking, especially if practiced in a natural environment, is a healthy and pleasant way to exercise attention to present sensations and thoughts moment by moment. The aim is to learn to turn the mind only to what we want to focus in that precise moment.

It’s about breaking the poor habit of letting the mind be kidnapped and held hostage by a thousand thoughts. Thoughts that don’t help us in facing the present moment, on the contrary, they get in our way.

During mindful walking, attention is anchored in the present. In order to do this, we start by listening to both our body and  mind. In short, we pay attention to:

breath: the only thing that always inhabits the present
muscular feelings: generated by the body in motion minute by minute
environment: to scents, sounds and sensory stimuli around us
mind: our thoughts and emotions.

 

Mindful walking prevents and combats anxiety and depression

Gregory Bratman, director of the Environment and Well-Being Lab, has done extensive research on the health benefits of exercise in natural settings. The study compared the effects of ‘urban living’ on the psychological well-being of people who live in large cities that are cut off from nature.

His interest arose from the observation that people who live in densely populated areas are more prone to brooding, or morbid rumination.

Today, morbid overthinking is a fairly common mental state. It consists of constantly and unhealthily “ruminating” about what is wrong with our lives. Brooding increases the risk of anxiety and depression by hyperactivating the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

The same author compared the effects of a 90-minute walk in the green of nature versus the gray of urban concrete in a paper published in PNAS in 2015, finding a decrease in both rumination and brain activation at the subgenual prefrontal site after an hour and a half of walking in nature.

More Benefits of Mindful Walking

It is now generally known that walking is beneficial to one’s health. In its “WHO Physical Activity Strategy 2016-2025,” the World Health Organization (WHO) makes clear recommendations in this regard, suggesting that:

Adults, including the elderly, should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, while children and teenagers should engage in 60 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity physical activity per day.

The benefits of mindful walking are many. Here are just a few reasons why you should start practicing right away.

1) Physical activity has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

2) Exercise improves sleep patterns and helps us feel calmer during the night.

3) Being active makes you happier and healthier.

4) It’s easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Just set aside 10 minutes each day to walk mindfully.

5) When you practice mindfulness, you become more aware of yourself and others around you. This leads to greater empathy and compassion.

And even more specifically:

  • aids in the metabolization of sugar by insulin, thereby preventing diabetes;
  • is beneficial to the bones because it promotes bone mineralization (which helps in the prevention of osteoporosis);
  • prevents heart disease by strengthening the heart;
  • aids in cholesterol regulation;
  • helps people lose weight, so it fights obesity.
  • according to a team of European and U.S. researchers, physical activity, even at moderate levels, could to reduce by 10% to 42% the risk of 13 types of cancer (download article).

In closing, mindful walking allows us to re-appreciate the pleasure of walking. We can take slow, relaxed, and calm steps. There is no hurry because there is no place to go. With practice, such a way of meditation can help us let go of our sorrows and worries, as well as bring peace and healing to our bodies and minds.

infographic about walking effects on body

Source: Mindful by Sodexo

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