How do you reminisce? Do you relax, medicate, or do you simply walk? Whatever. That awe-inspiring moment when you take a walk through nature that seems like your aura connects with… awww! You get the feeling, huh? According to a new research, taking an “awe walk” has a profound effect on your mental health and cognitive function. Dear friends, all you need is a 15-minute walk through nature, and so long as you do so with the right mindset, you’re good. Or, you prefer doing nothing?
Related media: Awe Walks: How To Start An Awe Walking Meditation Practice
What’s An “Awe” Moment?
In a 2020 study that took place before the pandemic, which was published in the Journal Emotion, researchers from the University of California in San Francisco wanted to measure the effects of awe walks — and in particular, awe — on mental and emotional health. For the experiment, researchers recruited 60 healthy adults well over the age of 60 to measure this effect. The study, which was led by Dr. Virginia Sturm, Ph.D, chose older adults because of the well-documented effects negative emotions had on their physical health.
Their experiment was conducted to identify the simple and cost efficient means to improve mental health, and it didn’t even get much simpler than what they tested. The study had two groups in which participants were randomly assigned. A controlled group: where participants took 15-minute walks outdoor alone — at least once a week, and at an easy pace. However, they were advised to avoid using their smartphones during the walk. And the awe group: where participants also had similar tasks, and another task, too.
The participants were encouraged to experience “awe” during their walks. Awkwardly, researchers defined awe as, “a positive emotion elicited when in the presence of vast things not immediately understood.” No pop quiz, please.
Should We Go For A Walk? Awww
For the next eight weeks, researchers followed up on both groups. Participants were assess with daily surveys that asked about their emotional well-being, even if they didn’t walk. They also filled out surveys after each particular walk that asked them stuff like what were they thinking while walking, what their mood was like, and their feeling of awe. Interestingly, each participant was asked to take a selfie at the beginning and the end of each walk. Weren’t smartphones banned?
Admittedly, this was a small group and a relatively short study. But the results are telling. The controlled group took more walks than that of the awe group (perhaps the thought it was a physiological experiment). However, the daily surveys from the awe group revealed a correlation between their improved prosocial emotions such as compassion and gratitude, over the course of the eight weeks. Meanwhile, they saw a decline in their feeling of distress.
“I find it remarkable that the simplest intervention in the world — just a three-minute conversation at the beginning of the study suggested that participants practice feeling awe on their weekly walks — was able to drive significant shifts in their daily emotional experience,” said Dr Sturm, an associate professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, in a statement.
A Walk A Day Is Awe You Need
Remember their selfies? It revealed a lot about them. Researchers later trained a team of facial expression analyzers who had no idea about the participants in either of the groups. Those in the awe group showed happier smiles by the end of the eight weeks. What was more noticeable was the selfies themselves, they had significantly changed over time. The researchers noticed that the participants who took these selfies shot more of their backgrounds than themselves. This trend was even used as a metric in the study.
Surprisingly, participants in the awe group took up less and less space in their selfies than participants in the controlled group. From the look of their selfies, it literally displayed their growing ability that they thought of themselves and even beyond. This trend increased over time, together with the amount of awe they experienced during the walks. The takeaway? Awe is a healthy practice, and the more you feel it, the more profound the benefits it has on you and beyond.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Dec 11, 2021.