If you’re an avid walker, chances are you engage in the activity for cardiovascular health, calorie burn and increased mobility. But you’re likely reaping the mental benefits as well, even if you don’t realize it. A daily walk is a great way to combat stress, boost your mood and decompress after a long day.
During the pandemic when everyone was working from home, I encouraged my private clients to break up their day by going on a transition walk after work before getting ready for their evening at home. Mentally, the benefits were astounding! One of my clients said she felt better after her transition walk than she did after a meditation class or a massage; another turned her transition walk into a reflection time in which she mentally listed off all of the things she was grateful for that day.
I, too, have turned daily walks into a walking meditation and have focused on setting the tone for my day with a morning walk that’s not just about movement, but more so about creating an open, clear mind.
If you want to take a more mindful approach to walking, there are simple ways that you can turn a regular walk into a moving meditation and reap the mental and emotional benefits. The next time you head out for a walk, hit the treadmill, or even walk indoors around the house, try focusing on one of these prompts.
Getting outdoors for a walk is especially good for our mental and physical health. Making a conscious effort to pay attention to natural elements not only keeps a common route feeling fresh, but it can deliver a dose of perspective and help ground you. Consciously observing the trees, sun, clouds, pavement or dirt road or flowers brings you out of your own thoughts and into the possibilities of the world.
For example, when I tune in to the beautiful trees in the parks in Chicago, the lakefront of Lake Michigan, and the flowers in bloom along the high rises, I feel like a higher power and a larger universe exists beyond just me. Focusing on nature brings me back to earth, literally, and helps put anything I am stressing about into perspective. Sometimes I even stop to smell newly planted flowers or touch a tree trunk or look down at the pebbles or cracked sidewalk underneath my shoes. Connecting to nature almost makes me feel like I’m on a vacation; I’m in a different mental state of mind and when I come back from my walk I feel refreshed and like I have new ideas and ways of thinking.
Research shows that a regular gratitude practice can improve your mood, combat stress and help you sleep better — and it is good for your physical health, too.
My client who turned her transition walk into a gratitude walk said that this daily practice helped her to be calmer with her kids and led to a happier relationship with her husband. She got out of the house and reflected as an outsider looking into her home with these prompts:
- Name 5 things you are grateful for about your kids.
- Name 5 things you are grateful for about your spouse.
- Name 5 things you are grateful for about your work today.
She gave herself as little or as much time as she needed to complete the mental list. It was a walking meditation so she enjoyed the walk and movement, but also had her mind focused on the positivity and gratitude that it fostered. The longer she spent in this state of mind, the easier it was to come home and actually see these qualities in her family and her job.
If this resonates with you, try using your walking time to mentally practice gratitude and list off the things that you’re grateful for that day. You may be surprised how much it shifts your mindset.
Are you preparing for a big presentation at work or initiating an important conversation with a friend or family member? A positive pump-up walk serves as a confidence boost. Follow these steps:
- Play one of your favorite songs that makes you feel empowered.
- Talk to yourself as if you are outside looking in: What do you need to hear to feel more confident in yourself? Maybe you need to hear that you’re a rockstar and you’re going to nail that presentation or that what you have to say is important, and your husband or sister wants to hear your viewpoint. Focus on this during your walk and talk to yourself as if you are your own cheerleader.
If I have a big presentation or conversation coming up, I’ll play my favorite Lizzo song (“Good as Hell”) and then channel her confidence for the rest of my walk. She gets on stage in front of thousands and is unapologetically herself. So I want to channel her and feel like people will be receptive to what I have to say. I say to myself, “What I have to say is important! How I present this lands greatly with my audience!” I come back from my walk feeling totally pumped up and confident in myself.