Health Benefits of Walking
There are many health benefits of walking. We hear about them all the time on talk shows and read about them on-line. Lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, strengthening of bones and burning calories are among the many health benefits of walking.
I start every day with a walk. Rain, snow, wind, heat and cold will not stop me from taking my morning walk. The weather may shorten my walk or slow me down but it rarely stops me. It has to be really nasty out or I have to be really sick for me to give up my morning walk.
People ask me about this all the time. If the weather is bad, friends will ask “so, did you walk today”? Invariably, the answer is “yes, yes I did”. This got me to thinking about why I am so dedicated to my morning walk and I realized that I see it as a form of meditation. Just as some people start their day with sitting meditation or yoga I start my day with a walk.
On my morning walks, I never listen to music. I like to experience my surroundings and be aware of what is happening at that moment. I hear the birds sing, I see squirrels running around the trees, I see my neighbors heading out to start their day, I see kids waiting for the bus, I notice who has been working in their yard or working on their house.
At the beginning of my walk I am focused on putting the leash on the dog, making sure I have plenty of dog biscuits, finding my keys, gloves, scarf, etc. When I get to the curb by the house I have to be aware of traffic. With all of this my walks start off as very high energy with a lot of motion, activity, and thinking.
As I start walking I can feel myself settle in to what I consider to be meditative walking. My pace evens out, my mind starts to clear, my breathing becomes steady and even. The act of putting one foot in front of the other and feeling the path beneath my feet is very grounding. I relax into my walk.
Walking to Clear Your Head
After a period of time and as I get closer to home I begin to think about my day. I plan out what I need to do that day, I often find myself coming up with solutions to problems at work or at home. With a clear head I am able to focus more and not get caught up in negative thoughts. The jumble of thoughts that were clogging my brain as I left the house are eliminated. My mind and body become more tranquil.
I have tried yoga many times over the years and though I have enjoyed it I never stuck with it for long. I prefer that my body be in motion. A neck injury eventually prevented me from being able to do so many of the yoga poses that I stopped and never went back. Many of us feel physical discomfort when we sit for long periods of time.
I think like most of us, I am much more aware of my body when I am moving than when I am sitting. For me this makes walking meditation more beneficial than sitting meditation. In the end, we each need to do what works best for us.
If my day gets particularly stressful and that nasty jumble of disconnected and often negative thoughts reappear just taking a few deep breaths and a short walk around the office or outside relaxes me and clears my head. I am able to connect my mind and body and relax.
Emotional Benefits of Meditation
The Mayo Clinic identifies a number of ways meditation helps improve your mental and physical well-being:
When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. The emotional benefits of meditation can include:
- Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
- Building skills to manage your stress
- Increasing self-awareness
- Focusing on the present
- Reducing negative emotions
The site goes on to identify the relationship between meditation and illness pointing out that meditation may also be useful if you have a medical condition, especially one that may be worsened by stress. They point out that it is not yet possible to draw conclusions about the possible benefits of meditation, however, some research suggests that meditation may help people manage symptoms of:
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Sleep Problems
All of these diseases are also helped by walking. As with any exercise program you should check with your doctor before beginning a walking program.
I do what comes naturally to me. Here is a video to get you started: