Hatice Baran/ Pexels

Hatice Baran/ Pexels

Mindful walking is a simple strategy that can be easily integrated into daily life through "habit stacking." A new research study has found that mindful walking in nature or an urban environment improves sleep quality and mood. Researchers asked 104 participants who were having sleep issues to take regular daily 35-minute walks for a week in either a park or a more urban area of the city. Walking in both settings improved sleep quality, mood, and mindfulness. This means that even if you live in an urban area, mindful walking is a healthy and grounding habit.

Another study found that mindful walking creates "upward spirals" of feeling better. Mindful walking lowers stress and anxiety, improves cognition, and can even reduce lower back pain and chronic pain. The process focuses your attention on the sensory experience of walking and calms the body and mind. This focused attention is a form of mind-body practice that reduces feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed, or hurried.

How can you integrate mindful walking into a busy schedule? Habit stacking is an efficient way to pair a new skill with an existing habit like brushing your teeth or getting a cup of coffee in the morning. It makes it easier to remember to practice the new activity—making building the habit both more effective and efficient in terms of time. Try filling out this MadLib:

"After/during/while/before/in between __(current habit)__, I will ___(new habit)__."

Here are some examples:

"While I am on my way to get lunch on a workday, I will practice mindful walking."
"After I get coffee in the mornings, I will practice noticing all my senses while I walk."
"In between meetings at work, I will walk the hallways and notice how my body feels."

Here are five ways to "habit stack" mindful walking into your regular routine.

1. Find a time that works in your schedule to "stack" the habit of mindful walking. Brainstorm times that might work to practice mindful walking—it might be on your way to work, getting your mail, or during your lunch break. It can even be a few minutes in the hallway in between meetings. Remember that practicing mindfulness can be as little as one or two minutes a day—it does not have to be a long time to make a positive impact.

2. Try a digital detox while walking. Put away distractions and focus your attention on the experience of walking to achieve mindful walking. It may be tempting to check your email or text messages while you're walking or answer calls, but try a few minutes of walking without being connected to your phone. Digital detox time improves focus, attention, and concentration.

3. Notice all your five senses when walking. Where do you focus your attention during mindful walking? One option is to go through all of your senses. What do you smell? What do you see around you—can you make a note of everything you see on your walk? What noises do you hear?

4. Focus on how your body feels while walking. Another method is to focus on how your body feels while you are walking. How do your feet feel as they touch the ground? Where is the pressure on your feet as you walk? Are there any sensations in the joints of your knees or hips? How do your arms feel as you walk? Does your body feel balanced, or do you notice that you tend to lean in a certain direction? Is one side stronger than the other? Notice how your neck and head are aligned as you walk.

5. Try paced slow breathing while walking. Rhythmic yoga breathing while walking is another form of mindful walking and habit stacking. This version of mindful walking combines paced breathing with your steps. Breathing exercises should not be painful, stop the exercise if you experience pain or discomfort.

Here are two variations of paced breathing during your walk:

4-7-8 breathing: Breathe in for four steps, hold for seven steps, breathe out for eight steps, and repeat. This ratio of "4-7-8" breathing reduces stress and anxiety.

"Square" or "box breathing": Breathe in for four steps, hold your breath for four steps, breathe out for four steps, hold your breath for four steps, and repeat.

Mindfulness Essential Reads

Mindful walking can start with a few minutes a day and does not have to take extra time in your day by habit stacking with times that you already walk outdoors or even indoors. The more regularly that you practice, the stronger your "mindfulness muscle" becomes.

Copyright © 2023 Marlynn Wei, MD, PLLC

Source link