Archive for June, 2016

Well-Being with Whitney: Walking Helps Thinking — Nature Walks and Stress

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Facing uncertainty can be stressful. What will the lab results reveal about your health? Who will your friends be after you move to a new area? Which job will you end up getting? You may not be able to predict the future, but you can reduce the stress of uncertainty — and other types of stress — by taking a walk outside in nature.

Walking through a natural environment can change brain activity so people don’t ruminate on negative thoughts as much as they did before their nature walks, according to a research study by scientists from Stanford University and other organizations. The study showed that those who walked outside for 90 minutes experienced less stress as a result.

When we’re anxious about an unknown future, it’s easy to ruminate on those worries over and over. Stepping outside to enjoy a walk is a wonderful way to break that negative cycle.

I took a lot of nature walks when my husband was searching for a kidney donor for the lifesaving transplant he needed. Would he find someone willing to help, who was a compatible match, in time? The uncertainty and stress were intense. Prayer helped me cope, but so did walking, and I often found myself drawn to praying while walking outdoors.

On one of my nature walks, a thunderstorm suddenly moved in, and I watched how the trees around me handled the unexpected change. They swayed gracefully back and forth, staying firmly rooted in the ground while they endured rain soaking their trunks and wind blowing off some of their leaves. They stood strong in the face of whatever weather hit them and simply did their best to adjust to it.

Walking relaxed me enough to stop ruminating on my worries and learn a lesson from the trees. Every part of nature is constantly reflecting something about its Creator. As the Bible describes in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”.

Whenever you must face uncertainty, your stressful emotions may feel like a thunderstorm. But just like the weather, emotions are always changing. So take a nature walk and soak in the simple yet profound lessons that you can learn in the process — about accepting that you don’t know what will happen, but believing that something good will happen if you trust God, yourself, and others on your journey.

My husband did end up getting that lifesaving transplant — thanks to a caring, generous man from our church who donated a kidney to him. Something good can happen in your unknown future, too, when the timing is right. Until then, walking outside can help you move forward with less stress and more confidence.

Well-Being with Whitney: Walking and Thinking – Moods

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

If you’re in a bad mood and want to improve it, take a walk.

Walking for 30 minutes boosts people’s moods by increasing their feelings of well-being, according to a University of Texas research study. Even those who had been diagnosed with depression reported experiencing better moods after taking a walk.

I was in a bad mood one summer night after fruitless discussions with some family members while trying to resolve an issue. Frustration and sorrow hung over me like a wet blanket. So I decided to try to walk it off.

Setting off from my yard, I walked around the neighborhood as thoughts about the conflict swirled around in my mind. I was ruminating on a negative subject, but still found my mood improving after a few minutes. Fireflies flew past me shining their lights, crickets chirped around me, and a warm breeze enveloped me as I kept walking. I hadn’t noticed the wonder of the summer night when I first began walking since thoughts about the family drama had weighed so heavily on my mind. But the more I walked, the more I gained a better perspective. By the time I returned home, I was in a good mood.

How about you? If you’re in a bad mood while you’re reading this, take a walk as soon as you can. If you’re in a good mood, great! Try to walk for at least 30 minutes on a daily basis to keep both your emotions and your body strong.

 

Well-Being with Whitney: Walking and Thinking — Memory

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Want to improve your memory? Take a walk.

Exercise such as walking helps the brain grow new cells — especially in the hippocampus region that relates to memory and cognition, says Preventive Medecine Research Institute founder Dr. Dean Ornish.

Walking has helped me remember something important on many occasions.

One day, I took a walk to solve the mystery of mysterious noises in our home’s attic. As I walked, the details of different instances came to mind, so I could connect the dots between the various clues. There were several times I heard running and bumping sounds. On one occasion, I remembered, those sounds were accompanied by noises that seemed like animals chattering. I also recalled seeing shredded bits of wood showing up inexplicably at a place that was located right below the attic.

After walking boosted my memory, I solved the mystery: It was squirrels! They had invaded the attic, and the strange sounds were coming from them scrambling around and chattering with each other. Thanks to that memory walk, I figured out what was going on in enough time to evacuate the squirrels and prevent significant damage to our home.

What are you having trouble remembering right now? Mull it over during a walk. Afterward, make a note of the new insights that came to mind while you were walking. Hopefully you won’t have squirrels in your attic, but some new cells in your brain for memory wouldn’t hurt!

Well-Being with Whitney: Walking and Thinking – Peace

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Need some more peace in your life? Take a walk.

Walking promotes a sense of peace by relaxing your mind. A Princeton University research study found that exercise such as walking reorganizes brain neurons, helping people relieve stress and anxiety so they can experience more peace.

When you walk, your mind’s attention centers on basic, fundamental focuses: simply putting one foot in front of the other and noticing what’s around you. You’re not as concerned with what you’re doing as much as you are with just being. That’s why walking promotes mindfulness, which in turn promotes peace.

If I have a disagreement with someone, I’ll replay the conversation afterward in my mind, trying to figure out different possible meanings of what the other person said and wondering if I had said what I should have or not. If my mind starts spiraling into stress, I’ll try to take a walk. Walking quiets my mind and gives me a clearer perspective on any situation that had been making me feel anxious.

Usually when I take a walk specifically to relieve stress, I’ll meditate on, or pray about, that intention as well. Then the peace I experience deepens to become especially strong. As I take each step on a walk, I let go of my worries. Step by step, I transfer the energy of my thoughts from negative (worry) to positive (trust in God). Walking enriches the process by giving me a foundation of relaxation on which to build.

How has walking helped you experience peace in your own life? What stressful situations are you going through right now that you could think about more clearly on a walk? How could that clearer perspective give you the peace of mind you need to navigate those situations well?

Well-Being with Whitney: Walking Helps Thinking – Concentration

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Having trouble concentrating? Take a walk.

Walking strengthens your mind as well as your body. A Harvard Medical School research study revealed that walking and other forms of regular exercise enhance concentration by releasing brain chemicals that help people concentrate.

Often, I’ll take brief walks on weekday afternoons to help me concentrate better on my work. By the time late afternoon rolls around, my physical energy slows down and my mental energy slumps, too. That’s when I’m most prone to getting restless and distracted. Clicking over to YouTube for a brief break to watch a funny cat video is tempting, but will only distract me more, so when I’m having trouble focusing I take a brief walk instead.

The physical rhythm of walking sets our mind in sync with a healthy rhythm, as well. It lets all the discordant thoughts that run chaotically through our minds drop away, and focuses us on thoughts that are worthy of our attention. Walking also gets our blood flowing well through our bodies, promoting optimal brain function, which also helps us concentrate.

Even though it seems counter intuitive, taking breaks from our work to enjoy some walks can actually make us more productive than continuing to work when we’re distracted. Walking takes time, of course, but it’s a wise investment to make. The concentration boost increases productivity that empowers us to more than make up for the time spent walking.

So let’s walk — for our minds as well as our bodies — whenever we can!