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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults spend at least 20 minutes a day doing moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like jogging or walking. Yet studies show most of us don’t hit that target. Meanwhile, in the first major Gallup poll conducted on sleep and anxiety in over two decades, they found that Americans are experiencing stress at historic levels. What if there was a way to tackle both issues? Mindful walking does exactly that.

Mindful Walking 101: What Is It?

Finding moments of peace and tranquility during a busy, hectic week often seems like an impossible task. But one practice has stood the test of time in promoting mental clarity and well-being. That’s mindful walking, particularly when done amidst the beauty of nature (which is why time in nature is a key pillar of self-care!). Combining the benefits of physical activity with the meditative aspects of mindfulness, mindful walking offers a holistic approach to relaxation and self-awareness.

“Mindfulness is a practice that is becoming popular to reduce stress,” explains Michigan State University. “One activity that almost anyone can do to moderate stress is mindful walking. Walking meditation is a way to practice moving without a goal or intention. For many, this is a more practical way to relax verses sitting quietly with our eyes closed. Mindful walking can help us be present in the moment and focus on the happenings around us.”

Don’t let the term “mindfulness” scare you. It’s really quite simple. “Mindful walking simply means walking while being aware of each step and of our breath,” adds MSU. “It can be done anywhere, whether you are alone in nature or with others in an office or neighborhood. Mindful breathing and walking meditation can be done between business meetings or in the parking lot of the supermarket.”

At its core, mindful walking is about being fully present in each step, allowing oneself to experience the sensations of movement and the environment without judgment or distraction. Unlike traditional walking, where the focus might be on reaching a destination or achieving a certain pace, mindful walking encourages a deeper connection with the present moment.

Do You Need to Be An Athlete or Physically Fit to Enjoy Mindful Walking?

In short, no! One of the most appealing aspects of mindful walking is its accessibility. Unlike some forms of meditation that require a quiet space and dedicated time, and other forms of exercise that may be taxing on those of us who are seniors or have other mobility concerns, mindful walking can be practiced almost anywhere – from a secluded forest path to a bustling city sidewalk. However, it’s in natural settings where this practice truly shines.

The Benefits of Mindful Walking in Nature

Nature has a remarkable ability to soothe the mind and uplift the spirit. The gentle rustle of leaves, the chirping of birds, and the scent of wildflowers can all serve as anchors for our attention, helping to quiet the incessant chatter of our thoughts. By immersing ourselves in the sights, sounds, and textures of the natural world, we cultivate a sense of calm and presence that is often elusive in our daily lives.

What the Research Shows: “In a study of 20,000 people, a team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t,” reports Yale. “The effects were robust, cutting across different occupations, ethnic groups, people from rich and poor areas, and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities.”

But beyond its calming effects, mindful walking in nature offers a host of other benefits for both body and mind. For starters, it provides an opportunity to engage in low-impact exercise, which has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, boost mood, and reduce stress. In fact, the benefits of exercise for your health and immune system are so powerful that it may even help prevent cancer! Layer in the nature effect, where time in nature is linked with a healthier immune system, too, and you have a powerful combination.

Moreover, walking in nature encourages a sense of interconnectedness with the world around us. As we move through the landscape, we become keenly aware of our place in the web of life, recognizing that we are just one small part of a vast and intricate ecosystem. This realization helps foster feelings of gratitude, humility, and awe, enriching our spiritual experience and deepening our connection to the natural world.

Finally, an often overlooked benefit of mindful walking in nature is its ability to stimulate creativity and problem-solving. Research has shown that spending time outdoors enhances your cognitive function, improves your concentration, and sparks innovation. By quieting the mind and allowing space for new ideas to emerge, walking in nature serves as a powerful catalyst for creative thinking and insight.

Get Started With Mindful Walking Today!

Like any form of meditation, mindful walking requires practice and patience. It’s natural for the mind to wander, especially in the beginning, but the key is to gently redirect your attention back to the present moment whenever you notice your thoughts drifting. With time and persistence, mindful walking will become a deeply rewarding practice, offering moments of clarity, peace, and renewal amidst the chaos of modern life. Why not take a step outside and experience the transformative power of mindful walking for yourself?

References:

  • https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines/current-guidelines
  • https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/exercise.htm
  • https://news.gallup.com/poll/642704/americans-sleeping-less-stressed.aspx
  • https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/stress_less_with_mindful_wa
  • https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health
  • https://www.nature.com/articles/s41577-023-00943-0
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7913501/