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Going on a walk is one of my favorite things to do to help me manage my mind. Hiking or walking gives my body something to do, of course, but it has the additional benefits of allowing me to clear and refocus my mind. My body can go into a flow state, a sort of walking meditation while giving my mind the ability to do its most creative thinking or problem-solving. Here are some of the benefits of walking:
Physical Benefits of Walking
The wonderful thing about walking is that it is a free form of exercise, but there are medical benefits as well. Walking has a positive impact on cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness, and inflammation, not to mention mental stress (Harvard has more details, if you want them), which in turn affects your physical health.
Walking as Transportation
Using walking as a form of transportation is a terrific way to get outside, get exercise, save money, and help the environment. Whenever I go shopping, I grab my backpack and my list. I try to strategically map out the places I need to go and bundle my errands into one trip. It’s especially helpful when we are travelling to cities where parking can be problematic.
Walking to Contemplate
Going for a hike or even just for a walk in your neighborhood is an especially great tool to use when you need to clear your mind, are stuck in your thinking, need to look at an issue differently, or work on something that might have just happened. You have time to think about multiple issues and get to the details. Sometimes, I can see if there is a pattern with my thinking that needs to change. When I was at work and something happened, I wanted to control my response. One of the ways I did this was go for a walk to make sure I responded correctly.
For example, when I was facing unemployment, I needed to figure out what to do. I had to tell my wife that our company would be closing. While I knew that she would be supportive, it’s not an easy message to deliver. I went on a long walk to work on my message, understand my feelings, and think of my plan. I needed to determine what was under my control and what was not. Walking that day helped me relieve some stress by working the anxiety out of my body, too – I made myself work hard that day. When I came home from my walk, I had done enough to begin my conversation with her with a clear head and less stress.
Like everyone else, I am plagued by issues of my past creeping up on me, things that make me uncomfortable when I relive them. One way I work on issues is to separate them by time. According to Jordan Peterson,
"Any memory older than 18 months that still elicits negative emotion needs to be more deeply considered. Part of you is trapped there."
Going on these long walks has helped me work through them, and if I still cannot resolve them, I can work on being at peace with them. Other times, I feel like I am playing whack-a-mole – I solve one issue and a new one (or an old one) surfaces. However, this can be productive because I am burning the candle at both ends, solving both old and current issues.
Walking and Listening to a Podcast or Audiobook
Walking while listening to something that interests you is a fantastic way to get exercise for both your mind and your body. For a long time, I had the same five-mile path that I walked every day. One of the ways I kept it interesting was to listen to a book or a podcast.
Hiking as an Adventure
One of the major benefits of hiking is the opportunity to get fresh air and exercise at the same time. It feels wonderful to be outside in nature. Following a path is like being on an adventure. Looking for the trail markers while climbing over boulders or around unseen bends is so much fun. I also love the idea of picking up rocks in my mind and finding out what icky things are underneath...the same thing I might physically do on a hike! It takes the benefits of walking a step further.
Walking to Relieve Stress
Going for a walk doesn’t have to include active thinking and you don’t have to cover a long distance. Using walking as a meditation practice where you are deliberate with your steps and your breathing can release stress. Try walking 25 to 30 steps and turn around. Doing this for 10 minutes every day has helped calm my inner critic. When I get distracted, I just refocus on my steps and breathing.
In the end, when I walk back from a hike or a walk, I feel like a changed person. Sure, I completed "X" number of miles, but it is more than that. The footprints I made as I started on the hike are different from the footprints that I’m leaving now as I walk back. I can return having worked on some deeper issues and gotten some clarity, and my feet no longer fit the same shoes.
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