Walk Your Way To Clarity

Stuck trying to make an important decision? Can’t figure out what the right next step is to help you get around a current obstacle or accomplish your goal?

Find your answer with a simple walk outside! That’s right – put your left foot in front of your right and WALK YOUR WAY TO CLARITY!

Literally taking steps seems to be an easy, free and quick way to decide on the next figurative step we need to take in life or work. It may really be that easy to start creating more Life-Clarity and find your answer today! 

I love to walk outside as do many of my clients. There can be something really enjoyable about a short hike or walk, alone or with company. I even coach some clients while walking and have noticed how this really adds to our time and work together. Recently I started reading up on all the benefits of walking, especially when done in beautiful green spaces like parks and nature trails.

I found that walking outdoors has so many benefits, more than I could ever imagine!!!

Most of us, I assume, are familiar with the HEALTH BENEFITS of walking. If you want a review, check out this awesome report from a few years ago by the Harvard Medical School. Walking improves many cardiac risk factors. It helps us burn calories (approximately 135 calories a mile for a 200lb person or 150 a mile for a 150lb person). Taking those extra steps helps us live longer and increases muscle strength, especially when walking up hills or steps.

But there is more than just the biological and health benefits to walking outside!

Perhaps less familiar, are the emotional and cognitive benefits of walking. Many of us love to be outside in beautiful locations. Why else would travel to places like Hawaii, Cancun and the Rocky Mountains be so popular? This emotional high that many people experience outside might be explained by the notion of BIOPHILIA, the theoretical concept that our bodies have a biological (and maybe evolutionary) positive reaction to nature. Somehow we might just be wired to love nature and thrive in its presence!

Another great benefit is the RELAXATION RESPONSE. Enjoy this short video to experience it first hand!

Feeling better, lighter, happier? If so, that may be due to a combination of Biophila and the Relaxation Response working for you! The Relaxation Response is the opposite of the flight or fight Stress Response. It is your brain’s way of telling your body that you are safe, there is no threat right now and you can relax. It calms and slows down the muscles and organs and increases oxygen to the brain, all great things! This response seems to be engaged through repetitive motions such as walking, repeating meditative words, yoga positions and even folding laundry or petting a cat. I bet there are some ways right now you can think to apply this cool body fact in your daily life!

So walking in a beautiful place outdoors is calming to the body, but also to the mind.

Some times while trying to make a big decision we can get stuck focusing on the negatives. Our mind can start to ruminate on just the concerns or worries. Walking can help with this too! Researchers at Stanford University studying psychological effects of nature recently found that walking in nature for 90 minutes (as opposed to a busy city street) DECREASED BROODING (obsessive negative thinking) in participants, a key factor in depression. They saw decreases reported in brain scans and a morbid rumination survey, double proof!

So if you are stuck in a negative spiral, keeping you from taking action in life, get moving! Put on a pair of sneakers, grab some water and find a green space nearby and go for a walk. Literally put your mind at ease one step at a time.

While you are out there, you might experience another awesome benefit of walking –INCREASED CREATIVE THINKING! Studies by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz and Ruth Ann Atchley (in partnership with Outward Bound) have shown significant increases to creative thinking while walking, up to 50% more creative output. That’s huge!!!

A friend first showed me this mental benefit of walking probably about 10 years ago. She was unemployed and decided she needed a schedule to her daily routine in order to stay productive and positive. Being unemployed is a hard time for most people, often discouraging and hopeless. She established a pattern of walking each morning around her neighborhood. For her, these morning walks gave her motivation to get up each day, but more importantly they also helped her think more creatively. She would return home with ideas of where else to apply, who to reach out to in her network and what she could to with the day to keep being productive and enjoy life.

I experienced this phenomenon once two! About two years ago I spend an afternoon hiking around Red Rock Lake in Ward, CO. This place is gorgeous with several small lakes lined with red rocks and green pine trees. I hiked by myself for a while then felt an overwhelming creative urge so I sat on a stump and unleashed a flood of poems. Some of these pieces have become my favorites due to the way they powerfully captured the beauty around me.

I also use this tactic when I get stuck in my writing or event planning work. Even just a short walk can help me adjust my focus and allow my mind to wonder into new uncharted territory. Sometimes my best ideas come while I am out walking.

One key part of decision making is to brainstorm all your options and think creatively about your situation or goal! Walking outside in a nature setting is a cheap and easy way to get quick results!

So…if you are stuck with no good ideas of what to do next or how to get around an obstacle, get moving! Put on a pair of sneakers, grab some water and find a green space nearby and go for a walk. Put your mind to work, literally, with each fall of your foot!

But what if you don’t live in a place that has safe walking paths or accessible green spaces for you to give this a short?

Here is the secret: walking around your neighborhood or even inside on a treadmill are both great options. Oppezzo and Schwartz actually found that the act of walking on a treadmill was a big component of the benefit, so just move! Additional research on Biophila showed that bringing plants indoors has a plethora of positive benefits including lower self-reported stress, sick leave from work and increased pain tolerance. Even looking out windows with a view of nature or seeing photos of green spaces has a positive benefit!

So…if you need the benefits of walking in green spaces, but can’t get outside to walk, bring plants inside (even fake ones), look out windows with nature views or hang up a few of your favorite outdoor shots! Put yourself at rest and engage your mind, literally, even without going outdoors!

I’ve loved learning about all the positive benefits of walking this past month. There really are so many ways we can benefit from a little time out in nature. What benefit could you use most right now? Do you need:

  • A bit more relaxation (engaging your body’s natural Biophilia and Relaxation Response)?
  • A break from negative thinking patterns (biologically decreasing mental brooding)?
  • More creative thinking and problem solving?

What can you do TODAY to apply all this fantastic news and start enjoying your favorite benefit? Where is a safe green space near you? Do you want to walk alone or bring a friend? How can you bring nature inside?

Not sure, let’s chat!

Content first published by Jessica Lynn Johnson in April 2017 on  JLJCoachingServices.com

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