Throughout history, people have been walking to recover and get new perspectives on life. Pilgrimage is recognised by all major religions as the path to enlightenment and purification, a way to gain expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good.
This summer I walked 350 kilometers of the ancient pilgrim route “Camino Norte” along the northern coast of Spain through Asturia and Galicia. It was an amazing experience which left me 6 kilos lighter and a strong sense of purification.
In my work as a management consultant, I have previously noted how outdoor walk-and-talk sessions can really energize a team and generate deeper discussion than you would normally get in a class room session.
However, walking the Camino made me think that maybe these benefits are just a scratch in the surface. I asked myself – what if long distance walking could be a way to drastically improve our physical and psychological health? Could it help reducing the use of addictive anti-depressant drugs? What if it could help save lives and improve happiness, while reducing the pressure on healthcare systems?
Research shows that the millennials is set to become the most obese generation ever, while the obesity rate among the general population has radically increased. For instance, the obesity rate in the US increased from around 30% to over 40% from 2000 to 2020 while the severe obesity rate almost double from 4.7 to 9,2%. In the western world, the lifestyle dependent diabetes type 2 is increasing by around 5% per year.
On the psychological side of things, we see a similar pattern. While rate of population with psychological problems was already sky high before Covid-19, research from the WHO shows a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide during the pandemic. In many countries, the waiting time in the public healthcare system for psychiatric treatment is more than a year.
While long distance walking is no silver bullet for all ailments, it is an effective, inexpensive and readily available means to improve our well-being. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of walking both in terms of physical fitness and health, as well as mental and psychological balance.
Health experts and doctors agree that we should be walking 10.000 steps or more per day to stay fit and free from disease, while physical activity is widely recognised as one of the big lifestyle aspects that significantly influenced our health.
But in order to get the full benefits of walking, we need to think about the way we walk. We need to move beyond just walking to the supermarket or walking one hour just to get some fresh air and exercise. We need to let go of the headphones and the running apps and become fully immersed in the walk. We need to pay full attention to the walk it self, and how it affects our bodies and our minds.
Once you do this, you might discover layers of meaning that go far deeper than you have previously seen. You will engage in a deeper conversation with your self that you would normally not have time for. What is your true purpose? Where would you like to go? What is holding you back?
We could call it walking meditation, walking therapy or just mindful walking.
What it means is a unified physical and mental journey aimed towards our highest potential. It means exploring walking as way to…
- Be fully present
- Be truly honest with yourself
- Refocus on what kind of person you would like to be
- What a truly meaningful lifestyle would be for you and
- What are the concrete steps you need to take to move forward
Walking the Camino made me realize that I would like to get out much more in the nature. I would like to be part of starting a movement to motivate more people to get out and gain the benefits of mindful walking.
I have decided to start by organizing day trips around Stockholm and the first tour is already scheduled through InterNations. If your an InterNations member, feel free to sign up for the trip!