In my ongoing battle against general anxiety and work-related stress, I’ve recently discovered (or rediscovered) the power of walking.
Walking — or taking walks, more accurately — has numerous benefits for both your mental and physical health. In particular, walking is a mild form of physical labor, one that preoccupies your body so that your mind can center itself, contemplate life’s issues, and truly take advantage of its creativity.
Reaping the Benefits of Wandering
I’ve reflected on three benefits that walks can provide. Whether you’re stuck in the office or bored and anxious during the weekend, know that getting outside and wandering for a few hours may be the remedy you’re looking for.
Walks Provide Much-Needed Physical Activity
On any given day, I spend at least seven to seven-and-a-half hours sitting at my desk. Not totally immobile, but not active by any means. I sometimes get back pain. I sometimes get paranoid about moving my legs enough, about maintaining good posture. People have often said sitting will be considered the “smoking” of the 21st century. Considering that I’m often strapped to my desk during busy weeks, I’m afraid that I indulge in this century’s “smoking” a bit too much for my liking or livelihood. So, I started taking walking lunches.
A walk around the block has become a staple of my workday lunch hour. A lot of my meals are walk-friendly (sandwiches, wraps, the occasional burrito), so I’ll often eat on the go if my schedule and work bandwidth allow for it.
Walking lunches help me get much-needed time on my feet. They allow me to have at least a brief period of activity during what is an overwhelmingly inactive day. Walking lunches don’t provide intense cardio, mind you, but even a mild physical workload does the body and mind well.
Walking lunches are efficient, too, which is key for my increasingly busy schedule. They allow me to take my lunch, get much-needed physical activity, and get out of the hectic environment of the office all in one trip. Next time you need a change of pace and a change of mindset without jeopardizing your schedule, grab a sandwich and take a quick stroll.
Walks Yield Exploration and a Sense of Freedom
There are occasional weekends where I have no plans at all. No social engagements, no travel plans, no obligations — I essentially have no real reason to leave my house or even my room for that matter. And, in the past, that’s what I would do: not leave. I’d use the free weekend to knock out a couple movies or make some progress on whichever book I was reading.
Though I would technically have the freedom to do whatever I wanted, I felt a trapped. I felt somewhat suffocated by my surroundings. So one weekend, shortly after I began taking my walking lunches, I decided to go drive somewhere scenic, park my truck, and just wander about for a few hours. I drove to a beach about half an hour away from my house and did just that.
For the first 20 minutes, I felt a like a fool. I was just wandering around, by myself, with no precise goal, destination, or endgame in mind. I figured everyone was on to me — “Hey, look at the weirdo just walking aimlessly.” But the more I walked, the more I realized that I was for all intents and purposes anonymous amongst the crowds. Once I realized that no one really noticed me or cared much about what I was doing, I felt immensely free, and I was able actually to wander.
Wandering frees your mind and allows your creativity to work in tandem with your body.Tweet
Of course, many of us possess this type of freedom — the freedom to spend our free time how we wish, in a way that is truly fulfilling — but we may rarely take advantage of it. When we feel bored or vaguely depressed on a Saturday afternoon, many of us don’t get up and move. No, we take a nap, or we let the binge-watching go on unabated. And if you find that fulfilling, that’s fine, and more power to you. However, when I did that, I was always left wondering why my weekends were filled with anxiety and a vague sense of dread. I’ve now discovered that when my afternoons drag on, I need to get active.
Walks Offer Contemplation Without the Restlessness
As I’ve mentioned in other articles, I occasionally suffer from a fair bit of anxiety. Sometimes it’s brought on by work-related things. Sometimes it’s general anxiety brought on by the day-to-day struggles and challenges of life. The point is, I spend a lot of time trying to get out of my own head. Or, rather, I spend a lot of time trying to live in the moment and stop thinking about the obligations and pressures that await me in the near future.
I’ve tried meditation — I still try it, sometimes. I enjoy practicing mindfulness, and I enjoy, in theory, the intense contemplation, but I simply get too restless. My legs hurt, my back hurts. I start thinking about how much my legs hurt and how much my back hurts, and then I lose all semblance of concentration and contemplation. The inaction of my body, for whatever reason, prevents me from singularizing my focus; it prevents me from existing in the moment, which is a primary goal of meditation.
But when I take my walks, be they my walking lunches or my Saturday afternoon wanderings, my body no longer whines. My mind is no longer preoccupied with physical aches and pains. I am able to free my mind of physical concerns, and I am able to concentrate on the tasks at hand: living, walking, being, and sometimes eating.
During my weekend walks in particular, when I have no obligations nor social events to worry about, my mind becomes truly free of concern. I’m able to analyze my anxieties on the move. I’m ready to think about them deeply because my body no longer bothers me. I can reflect upon my anxieties, forget them, and just live in the moment. I can concentrate on being, concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.
I consider my walks to be a bit like tending a zen garden: labor for the sake of labor. When our bodies are occupied but not overwhelmed, our minds are free for reflection, free to explore our issues and our anxieties rationally and creatively. If I’m facing a particularly difficult problem, or if I feel anxiety pressing down on me, I know getting outside and taking a quick walk is what I need to center myself.
You don’t have to travel far in order to explore and lose yourself. You don’t need to be a wise sage to find mental balance. You don’t have to climb up on a treadmill or stair-stepper to feel a little better physically. When you feel dissatisfied and frazzled, when you feel a bit trapped in your leisure time, go out and walk around. I guarantee you’ll feel just a bit better, both mentally and physically.