In this season of holiday activities—family gatherings, office parties, festive food, gift buying, decorating—it’s way too easy to wind up frazzled rather than dazzled. For me, it starts with just a glance at the calendar, dotted with holiday events. It’s not that I don’t love it. Open houses at art studios, a neighborhood potluck, a solstice gathering with friends—so many highlights of this season.
Yet, I can feel a grip tightening at the base of my neck, between my shoulder blades. It’s the spot on my body that registers tension first when I burrow into a tunnel of commitments and expectations.
And so, it seems appropriate to remind myself, and you, that it’s possible to reset that anxiety trigger with nothing more than a ten-minute walk. I’ve actually squeezed the release from even shorter efforts. The neighborhood loop near my home takes a mere seven minutes of brisk movement and usually returns me home in a more resourceful state of mind.
I began doing this loop a couple times a day when I was writing Healing Walks for Hard Times. In gathering material for the book, I interviewed research psychologist Robert Thayer, PhD, whose work at California State University explores the influence of exercise on energy and mood.
Just five minutes of brisk walking can reset energy levels, Thayer told me. Ten minutes can produce a lift that lasts up to two hours. A boost in energy correlates with a boost in mood and resourcefulness, he said. When your energy is up, you feel better and think better. A two-hour benefit from a ten-minute walk sounded like a miracle.
“Movement in the body brings movement in the mind. It is a natural alchemy," I had written ten years earlier in The Spirited Walker. I knew about the power of walking to revitalize the spirit. I just didn’t know it could happen this fast—that even short walks could work wonders when there wasn’t time for more.
Writing a book produces plenty of encounters with tension, so I decided to test Thayer’s findings myself. When I hit a dead-end or a writer’s block, I forced myself to grab a jacket and head out the door. The most convenient route took just seven minutes but I decided that would have to do. After all, even five minutes makes a difference, Thayer said.
“Just seven minutes,” I assured myself as I left the house. Seven minutes to recharge my batteries. As I walked, I focused on my breathing, mentally repeating “In-Out, In-Out” to avoid ruminating on my problem. Fresh air, a change of physical position, the momentum of walking—all of it jogged my spirit, my mood, my mind so that I returned refreshed to my desk.
But now, I’m starting to fret about the gift to be wrapped for an exchange tonight and the dessert to make for Wednesday’s potluck. I’m afraid you’ll have excuse me… I’m heading out for a short walk. I’ll just be gone seven minutes, but don’t wait. Go take a walk yourself!