Walking is one of the best, and simplest, forms of exercise. However, if you slump and shuffle your way through your daily stroll, you may not be harvesting all benefits walking can bring.
It turns out that how you walk can be an important indicator of how you feel after your walk.
A recent study in The Journal of Behavior Therapy and experimental Psychology found that when participants walked with a long gait, standing tall, swinging their arms, they remembered more positive feelings than if they took shorter steps, with rounded shoulders slumped over.
These participants were not told to walk as if they were happy or sad. They were given physical directives that emulate those emotional states. Before walking, they were shown words that were either positive or negative. The more upright walkers remembered more positive words, and the slumped walkers remembered more of the negative words.
It seems that not only are our minds speaking to our bodies, but indeed, our bodies are talking back.
Amy Cuddy, the social psychologist whose wildly popular TED talk coined the term ‘power posing’, has explored how body positioning affects not only how others see and interact with us, but also how it affects levels of key hormones such as testosterone and cortisol. In her research, she posed the question “Do our bodies change our minds?”, and she found that yes, indeed, how you hold your body changes your hormone levels, and therefore affects your thoughts and emotions. Her work shows that it takes only two minutes of power posing to affect these hormones in a meaningful way.
In my coaching work with clients, we often start with what I call a vision pose. It’s a pose that embodies how they want to feel. I then have them use this pose throughout their workout.
Here is how you can find your vision pose:
- Imagine how you want to feel in your body. Do you want more energy, to feel more confident, or have a little more spring in your step? Get as clear and concise and possible.
- How would you stand if you felt this way? Think about how your shoulders would be, where your weight would be centered. Again, be as specific as possible, trying out different poses until you find one that feels right for you.
- Adopt this posture whenever you are exercising, or throughout the day, whenever you need to remember how you want to feel. Your body will respond by helping your physiology match your bodies’ stance.
For those who feel depressed and tend to dwell on things in the past that they are ashamed of or feel bad about, taking a stroll while standing up tall and swinging their arms may feel fake. Cuddy’s research, the findings of the walking team, and my own work with clients suggest that the old adage, ‘fake it til you make it’ really can help you find more happiness, confidence and remember more of the good in life.
So, next time to you take to the hills, remember to swing your arms, stand up tall, and maybe, just for good measure, whistle a happy tune.