As we journey through our days endeavoring to be well, love others, attend to our work, and experience moments of peace and gratitude—sometimes we may need to just walk it off! The scientific data suggest that there are numerous mental, emotional, and physical benefits to walking including mood elevation, stress reduction, improved sleep, increased mental alertness and improvements in cardiovascular health—to name a few. If you add in another person as you amble along, there are powerful additional benefits that come through social connection, emotional intimacy, and exchanges of kindness and love. Physiologically, we are made well by movement, and we thrive on emotional intimacy; research suggests that the lack of either can lead to an increased incidence of disease and early death.
A comfortably paced walk lasting 20 to 30 minutes daily, can have a profound impact on our immune functioning and our emotional state. We release feel good hormones, increase blood flow and muscular skeletal work, and can actually generate more energy and enthusiasm for the activities and challenges ahead. Walking and talking is the epitome of a mind/body approach to optimal functioning and well-being, and it is essentially free (given we must choose well lit, safe environments and that can be a challenge). Important relationships—parent/child, spouses/partners/friends, work groups etc.—may really benefit from walking and talking as an opportunity to nurture connection and reduce conflict, while capitalizing on the mood enhancing effects that are in full swing.
If you choose to do this with a young person for whom you are responsible, you may have a chance to simply point out how relieving it is to repeatedly move the body around. This is an opportunity to plant a seed highlighting that physical wellness can impact emotional and mental health. As a compassionate servant leader, we can offer this type of stress relief, walking right alongside someone we care about literally and figuratively. Psychotherapists can use this technique as a productive intervention, with research showing that behaviorally challenged youth experienced improved problem solving and physical release using this modality. We can stroll along and perhaps chat about something that is pressing, or nothing in particular; being present without a specific goal in mind can allow for an organic experience letting our mind, body and emotion take the lead. There is no question that these are challenging times and self-care strategies for adults and children are imperative. Thankfully, we do have access to the uncomplicated, scientifically supported strategy of walking and talking that can make a world of difference!