Take a Walk

IMG_7694I am OBSESSED with walking. As an urbanist, I’ve always enjoyed walking as a means to explore spaces but recently I’ve come to realize just how amazing it is for my mental health.

As a non-driver in Los Angeles, walking is a big part of my life. As you get to know the public transit system here, you realize that sometimes you have to cut your losses and hit it on foot (thank God for Tevas). Walking has evolved far beyond its practical functions for me, however. With everything that I have going on these days, it is common that I wake up a bit frazzled. I have a million things to do, only a thousand can get done today, which thousand do I choose? In what order should I try to tackle each task? Do I really have to do that today? The thoughts come flooding in. When I’m pressed for time, I inject order into this chaos by taking to my notepad to write out a list/game plan for the day. Since I finished my quals and the semester has cooled down, however, I have been opting to walk instead. 

There is nothing like waking up and going for a lovely morning stroll to orient yourself for the day. I love the feeling of the cool air against my face, gently notifying my body and my mind that the day is underway. Moving my body in this way makes me feel alive, aware, and able. Midday walks are great for rebooting after having conquered the first half of the day. It’s an opportunity to take a moment for yourself – a brief pause – before getting back to the demands of life. A slow evening stroll after dinner is wonderful for decompressing, allowing your body to come down from everything that has happened during the day and prepare your body for rest.

Don’t relegate walking to a practical form of transportation or a physical exercise. Its benefits span so far beyond this. I encourage you to take walks more often and watch the rewards unfold.

Here are some of my recommendations for getting the most out of your walking experience:

Tune In. Find an episode of one of your favorite podcasts or a chapter of your favorite audiobook that’s about the length of how long you’d like to walk. This way you can focus on enjoying your walk rather than thinking too much about the passing time. If you get as excited as I do about listening to podcasts and audiobooks, this can also be an effective strategy for motivating yourself to walk more.

Phone Detox. Put your phone on silent and keep it in your bag or in your sports armband the entire time to keep yourself from being tempted to respond to emails, texts, and social media messages. Take this time for you. 

Leave your phone. If you’re brave enough, going for a phone-free walk can be amazing. It’s amazing how taking some time away from your devices can make you feel as though you’re breaking out of the confines of society and living life on your own terms, even if only for a short while.

Customize your walk. If you’re looking to exert some energy or get a workout, climb some stairs or some hills. If you’d like to take it easy, avoid the inclines as much as possible. Choose a walk path that fits your needs for that moment. 

Go light. If possible, don’t take any bags or anything with you can holding things requires you to tense up muscles. Use the time to allow your body to relax and work out the out the kinks.

Stretch. About half way through a walk, I love to find a nice spot to pull over and stretch for a few minutes. Notice what parts of your body are tight while you’re walking and then take a little time to work out some of the tensions more directly.

Keep it short and sweet. No need to walk for hours. I’ve found like a 15-20 minute stroll can work wonders for clearing my mind and rejuvenating my spirit.

Stop and smell the flowers. Literally and a figuratively. This walk is not about speed or distance. It’s about taking some time for yourself. Take in your environs. Take personal inventory. Be present. Be grateful.

Here are a couple of articles that talk a bit about the varied benefits of walking:

Mark’s Daily Apple: 17 Health Benefits of Walking 

The Atlantic: Walking for a Better Brain 

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