Mental health can be improved on a daily basis without too much extra effort.
Taking a mindful walk lowers levels of stress, anxiety and depression, research finds.
The beauty of the activity is that many people are walking around anyway as part of their normal routine.
It is not too much of a stretch to attempt a little ‘mindfulness’ while walking.
Being ‘mindful’ while walking refers to paying attention to the present moment instead of letting the mind wander off (instructions at the end of the article).
Dr Chih-Hsiang Yang, the study’s first author, said:
“It can be difficult to ask people to spend a lot of time doing moderate or vigorous activity by going to the gym or out for a run, especially if they feel stressed.
But if they don’t need to change their everyday behavior, and can instead try to change their state of mind by becoming more mindful, they can probably see this beneficial effect.
You don’t need to exert a lot of extra effort in order to improve your wellbeing by being more mindful while you’re moving around.”
The researchers carried out one study on students who were randomly prompted to report their thoughts and feelings while moving around during the day.
The results showed they were less anxious and depressed while being more mindful and when they were moving around.
A second study had adults engaged in outdoor mindfulness activities.
These were shown to make them feel better.
Dr Yang said:
“When people were both more mindful and more active than usual, they seem to have this extra decrease in negative affect.
Being more active in a given moment is already going to reduce negative affect, but by also being more mindful than usual at the same time, you can see this amplified affect.”
Mindful walking instructions
If you do any period of undisturbed walking during the day — at least ten or fifteen minutes — then you can do a little walking mindfulness meditation.
It’ll be easiest if done somewhere with fewer distractions, but try it anywhere and see what happens.
As when cultivating all forms of mindfulness, it’s about focusing the attention.
At first, people often concentrate on the sensation of their feet touching the ground.
Then you could just as easily focus on your breath or move the attention around your body, part by part.
The key, though, is to develop a sort of relaxed attention.
When your mind wanders away, bring it back gently, without judging yourself.
The study was published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise (Yang & Conroy, 2018).
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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.