The news is out. Research shows time and again that walking, the most natural movement of all to us, is incredibly beneficial in so may areas of our health; physical, mental, and spiritual. Walking lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, burns off surplus pounds, alleviates mild depression, enhances your mood, reduces the effect of stress and more.
But going on foot has other benefits too. Most people will agree that a ten to twenty-minute walk in the air is a great way to clarify your thoughts and put your problems into perspective. One aspect of walking that is under-appreciated is how much it can enhance your creativity.
“Studies have shown that spending as little as an hour a week in a natural area can have a positive influence on creativity, ” says James A. Swan, Ph.D., author of Nature as Teacher and Healer. New ideas, thought, and emotions often surface during a walk. Be sure to write these down immediately after your walk, or perhaps keep a small Dictaphone on you to record such thoughts. Walking gets you away from the crowds. Studies have shown that 80% of people stay within 300 yards of their vehicle, so by going that extra distance you will quickly get into quieter, less disturbed areas.
Many people enjoy listening to music while walking. Personally, I do not like being divorced from my natural surroundings. I find that a better use of walking is to increase one’s sensual awareness, particularly if you are in a natural setting. Use all your senses to gain a greater appreciation of your environs. Learn to read the countryside with your eyes – the broader canvas painted by glaciers and erosion, the impact of humans and especially older traces thereof; the presence of old habitations, field walls, and drains, quarries, gravel pits, decaying fence posts, second growth forest.
Watch for animal tracks and signs, listen and try to identify bird song, the drumming of woodpeckers, the rustle of creatures rummaging in the undergrowth, the sighing of the wind through the trees, the first flowers and buds to appear, shapes and patterns in the clouds. Feel the shape and texture of bark, flowers, and leaves (but learn to identify and avoid poison ivy).Smell the aroma of freshly mown grass, the varying scent of new flowers, the rich scent of different fungi, decaying wood and leaf mold, the warm air from the south, and the cold, crisp air from the north.
A walk is a great way to share valuable time with family, friends, and colleagues. Rather than always going out on your own, ask someone to join you. Next time you have a meeting why not take it outdoors? You may well find that the fresh air will help you ‘think outside the box’ and inspire greater creativity.
Walking and hiking is an easy way to meet some wonderful people, perhaps even your next partner, and many clubs offer hikes especially for singles, dog owners, and others. For those seeking to blend a physical challenge with fun, orienteering is the ideal participation sport for young and old. Called a “thinking sport”, it involves a combination of map reading and decision-making skills. There are levels to suit all ages and skills, in addition to enjoying a great workout.
Walking vacations are becoming an increasingly popular mode of exploration. Rambling through the countryside gets one closer to its heart than any other mode of travel. Close your eyes awhile and imagine the scent of wild rosemary and sage assailing your nostrils as you brush past these herbs on a trail in France or the coolness of a mossy glade in an Irish oak wood. Birds and another wildlife flit around you, while all the while you are absorbing information imparted by your guide on the local history and culture.
Hiking uphill to a castle or a town gives you a greater appreciation for what life might have been like there during the medieval period, or why that situation was chosen in the first place. And your reward? Arriving at a shady taverna for lunch, ordering a cool drink, then sitting and perusing the menu of fresh, locally produced foods. There are few better experiences.
Such small group travel experiences particularly suit single travelers. It is a safe environment, sharing experiences with others, and having the advantages of a knowledgeable local guide. From a good guide, someone inspiring and entertaining, you will learn infinitely more than from any number of guide books, get introduced to locals, and have your personal interests attended to.