Take a walk for well-being

Editor’s Note: MAPP, Mobilizing for Action through Planning &Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.

There are lots of things you can do for yourself, but can you believe that going for a walk could be one of the best? Beyond just getting outside, it could help reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and increase mental and physical wellbeing.

Okay, that may sound ridiculous and a little farfetched. How can a walk do all that?

The key here would be how mindful that walk is. You can race somewhere, walking fast and thinking about where you are going, or stroll along on the beach just noticing what you see. It turns out that the difference in those two scenarios can make a big difference in your life.

The difference is mindfulness. One of the side effects of practicing mindfulness is that it improves the mind body connection. Scientists and doctors are the ones that are excited about this fact because they have tracked this connection to the vagus nerve and to very real improvements to health.

The vagus nerve connects the brain to many interior organs, a literal brain-body connection. It starts out at the top of your spinal cord and goes to your neck muscles, your, lungs and heart, and then to your liver and spleen. Everything from turning to look at someone to your digestion is affected by this nerve. All of the parts of the body that connect to it have a direct line to the brain to communicate distress.

But it works the other way as well. Doctors have come to realize that when someone experiences stress, the vagus nerve responds. The heart rate may go up, digestion may go down. Our emotional stress level can really truly affect our physical health.

With this new understanding, the vagus nerve has become a key to new treatments from all kinds of issues from epilepsy to trauma. Doctors have started analyzing how to stimulate the vagus nerve in positive ways. It just so happens that there are many ways.

And one of them is to go for a mindful walk.

Mindfulness is not a new concept, but it also isn’t well-known to many. We may have images of someone meditating while sitting on a pillow in a peaceful room. But actually you can do a lot of activities mindfully, like brushing you teeth, taking a shower, or going for a walk.

Interestingly, such a simple activity can make a big difference for your vagus nerve. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to optimize the functional connectivity of the vagus nerve. This improves the brain’s ability to manage stress and anxiety and can dramatically reduce the severity of depression, reduce inflammation, and improve psychological and physical well-being.

Simply by being mindful. With so much science behind it, you can see why the South Peninsula Hospital is again hosting Jerry Braza, PhD, to teach classes on mindfulness. This time it will be a whole day event (though you can choose to participate in part of the day). If you can work on mindfulness all day long, then it certainly must have more to it than sitting on a pillow in a peaceful room. Throughout the day there will be talks, walks, mindful movements and simple practices you can do at home.

The Day of Mindfulness will be from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday in the Cedar Cabin at Many Rivers. Join in for the morning, the afternoon, or the entire day. Space is limited so pre-registration is suggested. For more information, contact Bonita Banks at bbanks@sphosp.or or 907-235-0258.

It’s a perfect opportunity to take charge of your health in the most gentle way imaginable and while having an expert ready to answer your questions. Your body and brain will thank you.

Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.