Walking is on everyone's radar these days, and for good reason. This year's blockbuster movie, Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed's book of her arduous personal journey on foot, won actress Reese Witherspoon an Oscar nomination. While you don't need to take an 1,100-mile hike, walking is universally understood as a way to help heal grief, depression, and anxiety. It's also a versatile and accessible form of exercise with profound health benefits.
Good for Spirit and Body
For the Huichol, walking is a physical and spiritual act, essential to the health of the soul as well as the body. Their days routinely include long walks over mountains and varying terrain -- to their cornfields, to gather food and water. During these walks they are not only getting physical exercise out in the natural elements, they are also deepening their spiritual connection to the earth. When I brought Don José to America, he noticed no one was outside. "Don't they walk to get from one place to another?" he wondered. He was dismayed to find out that everyone took their cars instead.
A Powerful Tool
You've probably already experienced the benefits of a good stroll outside after being cooped up indoors. Here are four tips to maximize the benefits of walking and truly improve your body, mind and soul.
1. Walk for Exercise. The physical benefits of walking include improving oxygen and blood flow, burning fat, and activating fine motor-control muscles that do not get used during jogs or runs. Start a program of walking as daily exercise, using your own fitness level as your guide. Aim for being able to walk about three miles a day. Start on level ground, and then add inclines and declines. Try increasing your speed. If you prefer, add hand held weights for your upper body.
2. Walk Frequently. You don't have to walk for hours to feel the benefits. A short walk will recharge your brain as well as get your body moving. Throughout the day, take five-minute walks outside. Keep a moderate pace and make sure you are taking in impressions of the world around you. This helps remove that unhealthy boundary that an indoor lifestyle puts between the environment and you.
3. Walk for Recovery. Even the fittest athletes can use walking for recovery. Walking improves the ability of muscles to flush out the byproducts of exercise faster, which speeds recovery time. After an intense workout, go for a walk at a moderate speed. It doesn't have to be for long: even a walk as short as five minutes a day can help speed up the regeneration process.
4. Vary Your Walks. Changing your walking routine will optimize its ability to refresh your state of mind and inspire your soul. If you usually walk alone, bring a friend or family member. If you find you're not taking in your surroundings, find a new road or trail. If the setting isn't keeping your attention, find a more scenic route with more to notice. Such changes are signals to your soul that it, too, can be changed for the better.