Fall is my most favorite time of the year. The weather is cooling down, we’re all consuming pumpkin everything, the trees are changing colors, and the fall activities bring me endless joy. This week I learned about a new concept that has been proven to help our elderly citizens, and I believe could benefit us all. An ‘Awe walk’ is defined by an interesting new psychological study as a walk while taking a fresh look at the objects, moments, and vistas that surround you. A somewhat nebulous emotion, awe generally is defined as the sense that you are in the presence of something larger and more consequential than yourself and that this something is mysterious and ineffable. To put an awe walk more simply, it is a walk which you intentionally are in awe at the world around you and searching for those ‘awe moments’ of beauty and serenity.
In this study, sixty elderly participants took weekly 15-minute outdoor walks for 8 weeks. Participants were randomly assigned to an awe walk group, which recommended them to experience awe during their walks. Participants took photographs of themselves during each walk and rated their emotional experience. Each day, they reported on their daily emotional experience outside of the walking context. Compared with participants who took control walks, those who took awe walks experienced greater awe during their walks and exhibited an increasingly “small self” in their photographs over time. These participants reported greater joy and prosocial positive emotions during their walks and displayed increasing smile intensity as the study progressed. In the conclusion of the study, they found that awe walks could be a simple way to combat malaise and worry.
There is already considerable evidence that exercise, including walking, can boost our moods. Past studies have linked increased physical activity to greater happiness and reduced risks for anxiety, depression, and other mental illness. Prior to this study, there had not been a study done yet on the benefit of intentional awe walking.
So, whether it’s just for you or your elderly loved one too, add a daily awe walk to your routine. Here are a handful of suggestions to ensure an awe walk over a controlled walk:
- Slow down and relax.
- Look and listen to the autumn nature around you.
- Focus on the world outside of your head, just think of the things you are observing instead of your daily agenda.
- Pay close attention to your sweeping panoramic landscape whether that’s urban, trees, mountains, or water.
- Look for the small details in nature such as the morning dew or birds flying.
- Intentionally look for the difference in the leaves colors as they change every day.
If you decide to start taking awe walks, I’d love to hear your findings, what you appriciated in your walks, and if you think it made a difference in your well-being. I know it does for mine!