As last year came to an end, in one way or another we all reflected on what went well and what we want to do differently this year. I chose not to begin the New Year with many resolutions, as these can sometimes put enormous pressure on us to achieve them, but rather I decided to continue with a few good habits I cultivated while we were away enjoying the hot Australian sunshine. One of those habits is walking.
My husband and I are both group fitness instructors and have always been very physically active, yet we had forgotten how beneficial a simple walk each day can be! Since returning to the UK winter I am pleased to say that almost every day I have maintained this new habit. I’ll admit that I am a fair weather girl, but wearing my wellies and layers of warm clothing and the right attitude I can still enjoy a lovely walk on an icy cold day. While I prefer walking in the warm Oz sunshine along the seafront, a bright, clear day in Kent with air that is so icy you can see your breath, can still be a beautiful thing.
Walking is what your body is ergonomically designed to do and has benefits beyond the merely physical. Many people walk as much for mental and spiritual wellbeing as for fitness.
When you walk at a pace that raises your heart rate it makes your brain release endorphins – these are your body’s natural happy chemicals. Walking outdoors enables you to get away from stressors, to clear your head and it enhances your creativity. Taking the time to go outdoors each day for a 20 minute walk enables you to get out of a stressful environment, breathe in fresh air, and feel your body move – all great ways to achieve natural stress-relief.
During the day your muscles become tense and stiff through postural repetitions, habits and stressful situations like sitting in the traffic or dealing with a difficult person. By going for a 20 minute walk each day you correct your posture and move your muscles and this can help to unwind those muscular knots. As I walk each day I really enjoy observing nature; the trees, flowers, birds, gardens, sky, etc. And on occasions when I feel the need to push the reboot button in my mind, I use my walk as an opportunity to practice mindfulness meditation. Being fully present and in the moment. Taking in all of the surroundings and noticing the details by engaging all of the senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Or by simply focusing entirely on the sole of the foot. Taking note of each foot strike and observing with curiosity how the foot lands, the length of a stride, where you feel the most pressure on the foot – in the ball or in the heel, how your toes feel as you take each step, whether the feet turn slightly in or out, etc. It is important to simply observe in a totally non-judgmental way otherwise you can become distracted by little flaws in your walk!
Will you make the time each day to go for a walk? To remind you to go for a walk stick a post-it note up in your home or office or on your computer screen that says: ‘Motion Affects Emotion’. Walking is good for your physical and mental wellbeing.
Movement in the body brings movement in the mind – it’s a natural alchemy.