When you are feeling blue, do you ever take a stroll to walk it off? If you do, you may be practicing something called walking meditation. Not only does this walking technique have the power to beat depression that is deep enough to send you to a psychiatrist, it is actually more heart-healthy, more stress-busting and a lot less strenuous than traditional aerobic fitness walking. No special equipment or exercise clothing is required either. just put on a pair of comfortable shoes, and go...

Better than power walking

First, take a tip from a study from Thailand in which walking meditation, which was given a slightly aerobic twist, provided more cardiovascular and psychological benefit than regular aerobic power walking. Before you go for a walk, warm up (and cool down after your walk) with a few basic stretching exercises (see previous article). Then...

Stand tall with your arms at your sides.

Let your gaze be softly directed at the ground six feet in front of you, and begin to walk. Walk slowly... as if you're stopping to smell the roses. And really let yourself do that. Forget about the cares of the day. In fact, focus instead on the sole of each foot as it makes contact with the ground.

While you slowly walk, let your arms gently swing in unison forward and back-yes, that means both arms forward at the same time and both arms back at the same time, which is different from the way we normally walk but not difficult to do... and as you walk this way, repeatedly say or think, in rhythm with your movements, a word or short phrase that is personal and inspiring to you.

In the Thai study, participants repeated a term that, as Thais, was meaningful to them- "Budd" with each upward swing of the arms and "Dha" (Buddha) with each downward swing. For you, if you happen to be a spiritual type, you might want to choose a word or term from your own tradition. If not, choose any word or phrase that is uplifting for you, such as "Peace and serenity," "Easy breezy," "It's all good," "Sunshine and rainbows"- even the name of a pet or someone dear who gives you joy.

If your mind wanders to worries and concerns, that's OK. Catch yourself at it... take a relaxing breath... and return to focusing on your walk and your inspiring phrase.

Walk this way for 20 minutes at a time when you first begin, and aim to lengthen the time up to a maximum of an hour.

In the Thai study, a group of women between the ages of 60 and 90 who had mild-to-moderate depression were taught this walking technique. After 12 weeks, there were some really fantastic benefits...

• Fitness. Compared with prestudy timed walking scores, the walking meditation group improved by 84%. Amazing!

• Weight loss. Members of the walking meditation group had a 5% decrease in body fat.

• Blood and cardiovascular health. The degree of ease of blood flow improved by 88% in the walking meditation group. Blood pressure, total cholesterol, "good" (HDL) cholesterol, triglyceride levels and a blood measure of inflammation called C-reactive protein improved, but significant reductions in the "stress hormone" cortisol, "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and interleukin 6, a protein associated with inflammation, were seen.

• Happiness. A significant drop in depression occurred, with the average score dropping below that signifying a depression diagnosis.

The researchers commented that the findings from their study were similar to those reported in other studies of mind-body exercise regimens, such as tai chi and yoga.

So, if you need to lighten and brighten your day and want to stay fit without breaking a sweat, here's a kind of light and relaxing walk you can take with a happy song in your heart.

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