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Mindful Walking: How Meditation Can Help You Stay Active During the Winter Months
Having worked in the fitness industry for almost 15 years, I’m familiar with many techniques used to encourage members to continue a regular exercise program through the winter months. These include: stick to a routine, make your self-care a priority, and find a workout buddy to keep yourself accountable. Sometimes these suggestions work. But with the colder, darker days, more often they don’t, and once active exercise participants drift away until the weather warms again.
However, a new study suggests spending time quiet and alone in meditation can also be an effective encouragement to exercise.
Study Shows How Meditation Affects Exercise Habits
A recent article in The New York Times by Gretchen Reynolds (How Meditation Might Help Your Winter Workouts) (1) discusses how meditation may actually help people stay more active during the winter months.
Reynolds reports on previous studies that show people move on average 11 minutes less per day between November and the spring than they move during summer months.
Since for some people, 11 minutes represents much of their daily activity time; this drop-off is substantial and worrisome. But little research has delved into how to combat the seasonal drift toward inactivity.
Reynolds reports on a study published in the September issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, where researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Iowa State University examined different ways to inspire people to continue exercising through the winter months. (2)
The researchers gathered 49 healthy but inactive men and women who had never exercised and tracked their activity for a week. Once they got a baseline of their activity level, the study participants were randomly divided into one of three groups: an exercise group instructed to walk a minimum of 20 minutes per day as well as meet for one group workout per week, a meditation group that attended a weekly group meditation session as well as practiced mindful walking and seated meditation at home, and a final control group instructed to continue with their normal lives.
Reynolds said the program lasted for two months, September and October, leading up to the beginning of November. At the end of the two months, all participants again wore an activity monitor for one week.
The two programs did seem to have had an influence, according to data from the monitors. Most noticeably, the men and the women in the control group were much less active now, in the late fall, than they had been in the summer, averaging almost 18 fewer minutes a day of walking and otherwise moving about.
But the men and women in the other two groups had not become quite so inactive, although they were no longer being asked to exercise or meditate. They were moving a bit less than they had been in the summertime, but only by about six minutes a day.
Reynolds reports that researchers believe both the structured exercise program, as well as the meditation program, encouraged participants to be more aware of their bodies, including if, how, and when they were actively moving.
Further studies are needed to determine why meditation helped exercisers stay more active and how it can be combined with traditional exercise routines, but Reynolds says these current studies are encouraging.
Health Benefits of Meditation
Increases sleep quality
Lengthens attention span
Helps control pain
How to Practice Walking Meditation
Walking meditation is a simple way to incorporate meditation into your exercise routine. It can be done anywhere, with shoes on or off, outside, or even inside the comfort of your own home.
However, unlike in traditional seated meditation, a walking meditation is done with your eyes open.
1. Find a safe location that allows you to walk back and forth for at least 15 paces, or in a large circle shape.
2. Concentrate on the feel and quality of your breath. Smooth deep inhalations followed by smooth deep exhalations.
3. Be mindful of your feet as you take a step:
Be aware of lifting your foot.
Feel the shift off your back foot as you begin to move forward.
Feel your foot connecting with the floor, heel first.
Be aware of the shifting of your body weight from your back to your front foot.
4. Speed doesn’t matter during walking meditation, but it should feel natural and not exaggerated.
5. Your hands and arms should also feel natural. Place your hands in a mudra of your choice in front of you, or allow them to hang by your side.
If you are a runner or jogger, you can incorporate these walking mediation methods into your run, as well. Many runners find it helps them control their breathing better, hence helping them run longer.
Whether you are a regular exerciser or a beginner, including meditation into your wellness program can have health benefits year-round.
Study with master teacher, Julie Gudmestad and YogaUOnline--Anatomy-Based Yoga Teaching Methodology: Principles of Safe Forward Bending.
Jennifer Williams-Fields E-RYT 200 is passionate about writing, yoga, traveling, public speaking, and being a fabulous single momma to six super kids. Doing it all at one time, however, is her great struggle. She has been teaching yoga since 2005 and writing since she first picked up a crayon. Although her life is a sort of organized chaos, she loves every minute of the craziness and is grateful for all she’s learned along the way. Her first book, "Creating A Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned From Yoga and My Mom," is now available on Amazon. She has had her essays featured on Yahoo! and Dr. Oz The Good Life. She is a regular writer for Elephant Journal Magazine, Your Tango, and YogaUOnline. See more from Jennifer at jenniferwilliamsfields.com.