Taking a 15-minute weekly "awe-inspiring walk" that stops us appreciating the world around us can help encourage positive emotions and reduce stress, a new study shows.
It is known that leaving the house every day for a short walk can dramatically improve our mood.
But US scientists say that walking makes our mood even more buoyant when we make a note of soaking up the beauty of everything around us.
These “awe walks”, where we soak up nature, architecture, and more, can encourage healthy “pro-social” emotions like compassion and gratitude.
After analyzing selfies taken during those eight-week walks, the US experts found that “awe walks” can also make us smile more.
A regular dose of awe is an easy way to nurture healthy “pro-social” emotions like compassion and gratitude – for example, by soaking up nature
"What we are showing here is a very simple intervention," said Professor Virginia Sturm of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).
“In essence, a reminder to occasionally shift our energy and attention outward rather than inward can lead to a significant improvement in emotional wellbeing.
HIKING AND MENTAL HEALTH
Walking improves wellbeing and helps fight stress and depression
– As with other physical activities, walking releases endorphins which improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety
– Feeling fitter and controlling weight will help improve body image and self-confidence
– Active people have a lower risk of clinical depression
– Walking in a group is a social activity that can help improve mental health and overcome feelings of isolation
– Spending time outdoors and in contact with the natural environment – for example, walking in parks, forests and green spaces – can have positive effects on mental health
Source: The Wanderers
“Experiencing awe is such a simple practice – take a moment to look out the window or pause to ponder the technological wonders that surround us – and we are now showing that it has measurable effects can have on our emotional wellbeing.
"A little more joy and a little more connectedness with the world around us is something we could all use today."
The study was inspired by a call from the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) for research to identify simple, low-cost interventions to improve brain health.
Professor Sturm worked with psychologist Dacher Keltner, an expert on emotions at the University of California at Berkeley, to come up with a simple intervention.
The concept was simple – trying to reproduce the feeling of awe by relying on external cues.
"Awe is a positive emotion triggered by awareness of something far larger than self and not immediately understandable – like nature, art, music, or in a collective act like a ceremony, concert, or political march to be involved, "said Keltner.
"Experiencing awe can contribute to a number of benefits, including an increased sense of time and an increased sense of generosity, wellbeing, and humility."
The team recruited 52 healthy older adults from the UCSF's longstanding Hilblom Healthy Aging Study program.
They asked each of these participants to take at least one 15-minute walk a week for eight weeks.
Half of the study participants were asked to repeat the emotions of awe and during their walks – the rest in the "control group" were not.
"In general, we've fostered awe by asking people to mind the details of the world around them and use their sense of wonder," Professor Sturm told MailOnline.
A reminder to shift our energy and attention outward rather than inward can lead to significant improvements in emotional wellbeing. This can be done on our daily walk – by focusing on the things we see during the walk, rather than the problems that might await us at home
After each walk, participants completed short surveys detailing the characteristics of the walk and the emotions they experienced, including questions to “gauge their experience of awe”.
People in the "awe group" reported increasing experiences with awe on their walks as the study progressed, the experts noted.
In the Awe Walk group, responses to some of the open-ended survey questions reflected their "growing sense of wonder and appreciation for the details of the world around them."
For example, one participant thought about “the beautiful autumn colors and their absence in the middle of the evergreen forest” and “how the leaves were no longer crispy because of the rain under their feet”.
In contrast, participants in the control group tended to be inward-looking when answering the questions about their thoughts and feelings.
For example, one screener said, "I was thinking about our vacation in Hawaii next Thursday (and all the things I had to do before we leave)."
Another thought about what a beautiful day it was and that I would go to my great-granddaughter later.
The researchers also asked participants to take selfies at the start, middle, and end of each walk.
The analysis of the selfies in both groups of participants showed a noticeable difference in the presentation.
The people in the awe group gradually shrank in their photos over the course of the study, preferring to show the landscapes around them compared to the control group.
At the same time, the smiles on the faces of the Awe group participants grew more intense over the course of the eight-week study.
Asked to mind the details of the world around them and use their sense of wonder, attendees smiled stronger after eight weeks – and made natural wonders a more important part of their selfies
"One of the main characteristics of awe is that it promotes what we call 'little self' – a healthy sense of proportion between your own self and the bigger picture of the world around you," said Professor Sturm.
"To be honest, we decided to do this particular analysis of participants' selfies on a lark. I never expected that we could document the awe-inspiring ability to literally create an emotionally healthy little self in front of the camera!"
Participants also conducted daily surveys during the eight-week study to assess their daily emotional state.
Members of the awe group saw a sharp increase in their daily experience of positive pro-social emotions such as compassion and gratitude over the course of the study.
Interestingly, the control group actually went for walks more often during the study, the researchers said – likely because some of them suspected the study was focused on exercise.
However, this didn't result in any significant changes in emotional well-being – or their selfies.
The effects were relatively moderate but easy to induce and grew stronger over time, suggesting that the benefits may continue to increase with prolonged exercise.
"I find it remarkable that the simplest intervention in the world – just a three-minute conversation at the start of the study, which suggests that participants were awe-inspiring on their weekly walks – could make significant changes in their daily emotional experience," said Professor Said Storm.
"This suggests that fostering the experience of awe could be an extremely cost-effective tool for improving the emotional health of older adults by simply changing their mindsets."
The study was published in the journal Emotion.
HOW TO DO AN & # 39; AWE WALK & # 39; GOES
Below are a number of instructions for those with an impressive walk that will help you get the most out of your daily walks too.
For the next eight weeks, we ask that you take a walk once a week that you may feel awe of.
Awe often distracts your attention from yourself and helps you appreciate the wonders of the world around you.
With the right perspective, awe can be found almost anywhere, but it is most likely to appear in places that have two main characteristics: physical expanse and novelty.
These locations can include natural settings such as a tall tree-lined path or urban settings such as a city street lined with skyscrapers.
Regardless of where you plan to take your walk, these two general guidelines should improve your chances of finding impressive moments.
First, try to use your child's sense of wonder.
Young children are in almost constant awe because everything is so new to them.
During your walk, try to approach what you see with fresh eyes and imagine yourself seeing it for the first time.
Every time you walk, take a moment to look at the vastness of things, for example a panoramic view or the detail of a leaf or flower up close.
Second, go to a new place. Try to pick a new location every week.
You are more likely to feel awe in a novel environment where the sights and sounds are unexpected and unfamiliar to you.
However, some places never seem to get old. So there is nothing wrong with revisiting your favorite spots if you find that they keep you awed. The key is to discover new features of the same old place.
The walk should be completed outside. Try to maintain a relatively easy to moderate pace while walking – no speed walking or jogging.
When you look at this scale and think of a six as the least strenuous hike you can do and a 20 as the most strenuous hike, we want you to be near a 10 or 11. Try to minimize phone use while hiking.
This means that there is no need to text, listen to music, check social media or make phone calls during the walk. Ideally, keep your phone in airplane mode.
During the walk we ask you to take three pictures of yourself – one before the walk, one during the walk and one after the walk.
Make sure your face is visible in these pictures! During this eight week period, you will receive an email from us every day at 4:00 p.m. with a link to your daily survey.
You have to fill out the survey every day – even on days when you are not running. The survey should only take a few minutes.
On non-running days, you will be asked some questions about your emotional experience that day.
On days when you go for a walk you will be asked some additional questions about the details of your walk and you will be able to upload any pictures you have taken.
At the end of the two month period, we will send you a larger set of questionnaires to fill out.
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