I’m not the hugest fan of solitary walks, but I do walk by myself at times and thoroughly enjoy the extra time to think that it provides. On the other hand, one of the biggest benefits to walking is the social aspect. Walking with a buddy or two is a great time to bond and discuss ideas. I don’t know why but I often come up with my greatest schemes and ideas while walking and talking with a buddy. It must be some combination of the sunlight, fresh oxygen, endorphins from exercising and that intangible sense of connection between two or more people. It feels to me like it’s something deeply rooted in my DNA going back thousands and thousands of years. I feel like “YE! this is something I was born to do”.
Another benefit of walking is the exposure to sunlight. A quick google search about the health benefits of vitamin d and sunlight exposure provides many great articles! It’s time for us to embrace the healing power of sunlight instead of fearing it. I first learnt about the importance of sunlight after reading the book “The Natural Way” by Mary-Ann Shearer. In it she suggests frequent, safe sun exposure to be highly beneficial. Ever since then I’ve done a lot of safe suntanning. If I’m out in nature I’m generally walking without a shirt, and with short pants so that I can get as much natural sunlight as possible! Before I start burning I’ll throw on a hat and long thin clothes, that aren’t too hot but still protect me from the sun. Sunscreen really isn’t necessary, and unfortunately most brands are filled with carcinogenic chemicals.
Walking in natural sunlight is also highly beneficial for keeping our circadian rhythm in check. When are our circadian rhythms are working properly we are alert, energised and awake during the day and sleepy and relaxed during the evening. Our circadian rhythms can become a bit wacky and out of sync, without exposure to natural sunlight, which is needed to “reset” our daily internal clock. An important caveat though is that this process doesn’t happen if you are wearing glasses or contacts that have any type of UV protection in them (most do). The UV light needs to enter our retina for the pineal gland to receive the message to orchestrate the sleep and wake hormones in the correct way.
Having the correct amount of high quality sleep can go a long way towards helping anyone with anxiety or depression. Without enough quality sleep our body can’t make the correct amounts of happiness chemicals and easily enters a stressed, high adrenaline state. Correcting your circadian rhythm can go a long way towards ensuring enough quality sleep. Seasonal affective disorder is of course also effected by sunlight. Personally I can’t think of many better ways of getting your daily healing dose of sunlight in than by going for a walk for the SAD sufferer.
Another health benefit of walking is that it moves the lymph around our body. Our heart pumps blood throughout our body, but our lymphatic system can only move through massage and exercise. Walking is a great way to keep the lymph system moving! The lymphatic system plays an important role in fat digestion and our immune system.
There are a few ways to work walking into your schedule. You could set aside particular times for walking by yourself or with friends or family. Personally, I try go for a nature walk with my mom and sister every Saturday.
Instead of using your car for everything, why not walk if the shops aren’t too far away? I don’t have the luxury of driving my own car anymore but have seen that walking to the shops isn’t nearly as bad or as time consuming as I thought it would be. In fact, I think it goes a long way towards reducing mental stress with this “rush around” mental attitude we tend to develop.
Have you ever realised how rushed life seems these days? Even though walking takes more time than driving, you may find you feel like you have more time when you do more walking then driving. When you walk, you get to appreciate many things you wouldn’t have noticed other wise. You’ll see your neighbourhood in a different light, perhaps exchange a smile with a passing stranger and maybe even stop to smell the roses!
I find walking to be a great way of connecting with my friends and family, so if I have some free time I’ll call someone up and go for a spontaneous walk. I’m fortunate for living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and having quick access to one of the natural seven wonders of the world, but even so, when I spend time with my grandparents in one of the most boring places in the world I still end up doing a lot of walking, because it’s fun and there’s always something to see and someone to connect to.
If you look hard enough you’ll find ways to incorporate this wonderful practice into your lifestyle and start reaping rewards right away.