In our fast moving modern world, walking is just the thing we need to slow down and stay in balance. It might not be as glamorous as road cycling or trail running, but this ancient sport has far more to offer than you might imagine.
In our attention economy, where multiple devices and channels compete for our attention, knowing how to slow down and focus is an increasingly important skill.
Walking is the perfect way to cultivate this skill. It can be the time of the day we take to consciously slow down and pay attention. Rather than having our attention scattered, walking gathers our attention into a more singular focus. It’s one footstep at a time.
Mindful walking is a wonderful way to bring together body and mind. Every step brings you home to the here and the now, so you can connect with yourself, your body, and your feelings. That is a real connection. – Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen master
And whether it’s counteracting the effects of weight promoting genes, helping to tame a sweet tooth, improving immune system function and overall mood, walking offers a host of health benefits. It promotes creative thinking, staves off metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess fat around the belly), and even improves digestion.
In a nutshell, walking is quite possibly the oldest and best form of exercise known to man.
Here are five tips to enjoy your regular walks even more
#1 Stay safe
During winter months especially, as the days are darker and colder, it’s important to ensure you stay safe out there. This will help you relax, and enjoy your walk more.
Reflectors: Buy yourself an assortment of reflectors for your clothing so you are clearly visible to cyclists and drivers from a distance. Use “biological motion” for increased visibility; this means lighting up your joints – ankles, knees, wrists and elbows, not the torso – so motorists and cyclists recognise you as a moving person.
Footwear: Head to a hiking store that has a reputation for well trained staff and get yourself properly fitted for walking shoes. Blisters really are buzz killer, and can usually be avoided when we get the perfect size footwear. Shoes with good grip also reduce the likelihood of slipping, which is especially important in colder climes over winter.
#2 Scout interesting routes
See the routes other walkers in your vicinity are taking by downloading our Sports Tracker app, and using the map to find the light orange dots that indicate a walking route a user has recorded. Following other people’s routes might take you past some new sights, a pleasant green belt or a cool new cafe that you’ll fall in love with. You can follow and connect with your fellow local walkers and friends, too. Who knows, maybe you’ll bump into each other one day.
#3 Know your city
Get some inspiration from runner Rickey Gates’s project Every Single Street, in which he is running every street in San Francisco. Do the same and walk every street in your city, suburb, or borough. You’ll become more intimate with your local space, helping you to feel more part of things. You might make some surprising discoveries, and will certainly learn where all the best restaurants and cafes are.
#4 Walk with your senses open
The slower pace of walking allows us to more easily come back to the present moment. Perhaps that’s why walking meditation has played central a role in the Zen and mindfulness traditions. It’s a way of getting out of autopilot, where we do things robotically, without paying much attention. Here are a few tips to turn your walks into mindful experiences:
Observe every footstep: Rather than spend your whole walk thinking about the past or the future, come into the present moment by paying close attention to each footstep. There are different phases of walking, for example lifting the foot, stepping and placing the foot. For five or 10 minutes, zoom in and observe all the sensations of walking. See if you can even feel muscles stabilising in your core as you take each step.
Relax!: We often carry habitual tension in our everyday life, for example tense shoulders, held up high. Drop your shoulders, relax your jaw and see if you can locate other areas of your body you can relax as you walk.
Notice colours: Another great way to tune into the present moment is by noticing all the different shades of colour around you. How many types of green can you see? Count as many colours as you can, and try to find new ones.
Appreciate the pleasant: When we’re stuck in autopilot, we ignore all the small, but pleasant experiences of being alive. Little things like the feeling of the sun on our faces, a soft breeze, dappled sunlight on an old building, or maybe just the feeling of breathing. While your out walking pay close attention to these oft missed delights, counting how many you can identify.
#5 Find your own sit spot
Like walking, spending time in nature has been shown to have many health benefits. So much so, doctors in Scotland can now prescribe nature. One way to ensure you get enough nature time is to have a sit spot. A sit spot is a place somewhere in a natural setting that you can go and sit in almost everyday. It doesn’t have to be untouched wilderness; it can be a local city park or in your own backyard. It’s best if it’s near where you live so you can get to it regularly.
When you’re out on your walks you can pass by it, sit there for five or 10 minutes, and observe the natural world around you. You might start noticing things you didn’t see before – insects, birds, plants, the gradually changing seasons, for example. This article has plenty of excellent tips to help you find the ideal sit spot.
In a frantic world of go, go, go, becoming a walker might be the very best thing you can do to stay in balance. We’d love to hear what you think in the comments below!
Josh Gale – Kiwi journalist tracking adventures great and small
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