The Best You looks at the health and mental benefits of stepping on out and walking to fitness and creativity…
Keeping fit needn’t be a chore. In fact, raising your fitness level, getting your heart beating faster and flooding your mind and body with a sense of wellbeing can be as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.
Walking can be a fascinating and enjoyable way to get to know the place you live, enjoy the countryside, explore new places and meet people. Getting out into daylight and raising the heart-rate can have hugely beneficial effects. In a recent study, the British Heart Foundation discovered that people who walk briskly for half an hour a day reduce the risk of heart attack by 40 per cent.
Meanwhile, another study showed that contact with nature on a country walk powerfully reduces stress levels. The secret ingredient, scientists say, is the greenery. There’s even a name for a lack of it – “Nature Deficit Disorder”.
But that’s not all. The steady rhythm of walking can have a powerful positive psychological effect.
None other than the great poet William Wordsworth found a walk in the countryside a powerful tonic for composing poems.
Throughout his life, Wordsworth continued to pace, finding the rhythm of his stride repeated in his poems. It has been estimated that Wordsworth walked 180,000 miles in his life. It certainly did him no harm, living as he did to the grand old age of 80.
The focusing and calming effect of walking has been taken to an extreme in the meditations of Buddhists, who use steady pacing to slow the mind and disentangle it from the “veil of illusion” they believe brings human suffering. Walking meditation is used by many Buddhists to reach mindfulness – a calm and relaxed awareness that is detached from deep emotions.
Whether you walk for fitness, for enjoyment, or sociability, for nature appreciation – or to write a masterpiece, the great advantage of walking is that you just have to step outside your door. Of course, it is wonderful to walk in the countryside, but a decent pair of shoes and the right clothes mean you can enjoy this health-giving pastime anywhere.
So, the next time you consider jumping in the car to take a 5 minute journey, think again.
Walking Meditation how to do it:
Give yourself 10-20 minutes to do the following
• Step outside the door and walk steadily and deliberately, focusing your attention on your foot as it touches the ground.
• Relax your body and your shoulders, allowing your arms to swing naturally
• As you shift your weight forward, transfer your attention to the other foot, noticing how this touches the ground and your weight is transferred.
• Again, as you move forwards, shift your attention gently to the next step.
• If your thoughts begin to wander, acknowledge whatever thought appears in your mind, but then gently redirect your attention to your feet.
• If you are in a busy environment or near a road, do of course pay attention to what is going on around you to some extent, but keep the steady rhythm of walking at the forefront of your mind.
• After 10 minutes or so, you will find that your mind has begun to clear and that you are feeling more relaxed.
Composer J S Bach once walked 260 miles to hear famous organist Buxtehude perform. The 20-year-old then walked back carrying manuscript copies he had made of the organist’s playing.
George Meegan is famous for his unbroken walk of the entire Western Hemisphere with no special equipment and financial backing. His self-published book, The Longest Walk: The Record of Our World’s First Crossing of the Entire Americas, tells of the entire voyage from Tierra del Fuego, South America in 1977 to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in 1983. He concluded his walk to Barrow in 2002 summing up the total distance of his journey to 19, 0919 miles in 2,425 days.
Brisk walking is good for the heart and for stamina, while walking with care and attention with a slow steady movement is helpful to building mental focus.