By Jean Larson, manager of the Nature-Based Therapeutic Services Program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
We know walking is good for our health. However, what about walking with “awe” in mind? Awe is a positive emotion triggered by awareness of something vastly larger than the self and not immediately understandable — such as nature. Experiencing awe can contribute to a host of benefits, including an expanded sense of time and enhanced feelings of generosity, well-being and humility.
A new study, led by Virginia Strum, professor of neurology, from the University of California, San Francisco looked at awe walking over an eight-week period with a group of 52 healthy older people (ages ranged 60-90), separated into an awe walking group and a control.
During the study, participants took selfies at the beginning, middle and end of each walk – in addition to answering surveys related to their emotional state. No surprise, those in the awe walking group experienced more feelings of awe over time compared to the control group. In particular, the awe walking group members expressed a greater feeling of being part of something larger in the world, and thought of themselves in terms of “small selves” as they looked out into the scenery, and focused less inwardly. The images from the selfies mirrored this, as the smiles grew bigger and more intense over time. And even though the beneficial effects in this one small study were modest, it was noted by authors’ how incremental gains in a person’s wellbeing can improve health over time.
What this study tells us is awe walking is a simple way to shift our energy out into nature – pausing to consider all the marvels that surround us – and ultimately, can lead to improvements in both our physical health and emotional wellbeing. If you’re interested in taking your own awe walk, check out these directions for awe walking. I hope you consider scheduling an awe walk at the Arboretum today!
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