From the annals of the silver linings pandemic playbook, here’s a fun fact: more than two-thirds of Americans surveyed by UnitedHealthcare say that since COVID-19 hit, walking has become their preferred exercise.
Beyond the physical benefits, copious evidence supports the positive psychological impacts of fitness, including increased satisfaction and reduced anxiety, depression, and other mental ills.
Walking, in particular, has been shown to boost creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. This, however, can be a double-edged sword when facing unprecedented adversity. It can be tempting to spin on challenges beyond your control.
Luckily, it’s easy to avoid bringing worries along on a walk. With a simple mindful shift, you can enjoy what researchers call an “awe walk.”
Take a walk on the wonder side
While nature’s awesome power has been humbling in recent months, it’s small wonders that can have a big impact on mood, perspective, and well-being.
Going on the hypothesis that aging into later life can cause social disconnection, anxiety, and sadness — things actually affecting people of all ages during the pandemic — a team of scientists studied two groups of walkers.
The control was asked simply to take a 15-minute walk outdoors once a week for eight weeks. How they did that was their choice.
The rest had the same marching orders but were also told to go to new places and view details with wonderment and curiosity to cultivate awe.
A somewhat nebulous emotion, awe generally is defined as the sense that you are in the presence of something larger and more consequential than yourself and that this something is mysterious and ineffable.
Not surprisingly, the group who took new routes and practiced fresh perspectives reported feeling more optimistic and buoyant than those who didn’t.
While it’s easy to appreciate, say, a sweeping ocean landscape or stunning sunrise hike, there’s also joy in beholding the petals of a late-season rose or the elegant sway of tree branches in the wind.
Likewise, if you live in a city, make it a point to check out new neighborhoods and marvel at vibrant details. For example, you can follow in the footsteps of Matt Green, who has walked every New York City block.
The point is, as the researchers said, to “focus on the world outside of your head.”
The results can be profound. Back to the study, where all of the subjects were asked to take selfies during their walk. Researchers observed that the awe walkers’ faces grew smaller as the environment became more dominant. Nothing like that occurred with the control group.
Make walking a daily habit, and along with better health, you get a dose of enlightenment. Now that’s awesome.
An ‘Awe Walk’ Might Do Wonders for Your Well-Being | New York Times