These days, it feels like parents are busier than ever.
Work carries over into home, you’re constantly running between the store, appointments and meetings, and of course you can’t give up quality time with the kids.
It can be stressful, and cause you to feel overwhelmed. Time with your partner may be sacrificed, and you may not have any safe outlets for your stress.
After starting a daily walking ritual with my partner Amara, I noticed that I just felt good during and after our walks. So, I started looking into the research. We all know that exercise is good for your body, but what are the emotional and relational benefits that walking provides?
How can taking walks as a family benefit not only your own peace of mind, but strengthen your relationship with your partner and your children?
Here’s what I found out.
1. Physical Benefits
Obviously, we know that walking burns calories and helps you manage your weight.
It’s one of the greatest and simplest forms of exercise that almost anyone can do.
(To be honest, during my own weight loss journey, half of the benefit of my longer walks was the fact that I didn’t have snacks accessible to me at any moment!)
But what are the deeper, less obvious benefits?
Walking regularly has been proven to increase your overall energy, reduce stress and increase blood flow even on a cellular level. These benefits carry over even while you’re not exercising, and improves your overall mood.
Walking has also been proven to aid with depression (including postpartum depression), and helps people to feel more hopeful and optimistic. This is particularly beneficial for new parents, who may feel ‘trapped’ at times in the current life situation.
Finally, a study by the PNAS shows that regular walking grows the hippocampus in the brain, which is responsible for learning, memory and emotional regulation. Although this study was performed on adults, studies have also shown a correlation between how physically fit a child is, and the size of their hippocampus.
As a strong learning ability, a healthy memory and the ability to regulate emotions well are all positive traits for children, it is certainly a good idea to bring them along with you if you can.
And that’s before all of the other, more commonly known physical benefits!
2. Quality Time To Talk
When you’re at home, you’re surrounded with distractions and other things that can pull your attention away.
This is just as true for your children as it is for you. It may be challenging for kids to clear their mind and engage in thoughtful discussion, if they are thinking about the YouTube video they want to get back to.
And as for parents, we know that quality time with your partner can be hard to come by.
When you step outside, you no longer have to think about the food you need to make, or the room you need to clean. You can break free of the hundreds of little problems you have to deal with, and simply focus on where you’re going.
And well, since walking itself doesn’t really require a lot of thought, it frees your mind to really focus on the things that are truly important at that moment.
Walks are a great time to calmly air problems and work through issues, particularly with your partner. Amara and I have found on our own walks that we’re more mentally alert, less likely to experience emotional outbursts (perhaps partially because we’re in public), and less likely to emotionally withdraw from the conversation. And the fact that walks have given us a chance to decompress at the end of the day, has certainly prevented arguments before they ever happened.
While you should certainly encourage your children to share what’s on their mind as well, try to avoid direct confrontation with them regarding issues that have been going on at home or at school. If the tone of your walks is consistently negative, kids will quickly pick up on it and learn to dislike walking with you.
However, you may find that children open up a lot more when outside than when trapped inside the house, near their toys and gadgets. Instead of responses like ‘I don’t know’ or ‘good’, the fact that they have nothing else to do may encourage them to fully vocalize their thoughts, ideas, and feelings to you.
3. Appreciation For Little Moments
There’s something about being outside and away from the home, that just brings out this sense of inner peace.
It makes you feel so thankful for this beautiful gift of life, especially if you are sharing your walk with other people that you love.
Personally, I have found this benefit to be immense, especially when walking out in nature. That makes sense, since walking in nature has been proven to reduce cortisol levels, and reduce overall stress even further.
I was fortunate to be born in the beautiful state of Washington, where walks in nature were something that my parents took me along for my entire life.
Now as an adult, I love to use this time to practice gratitude. To be thankful for the fact that I can enjoy something so beautiful, to feel the cool air on my face, to witness the fauna and wildlife, to appreciate the time I have, and everything I’ve been blessed with in this life.
Nothing significant may happen on your walks, but they will surely be full of unique little moments that may end up being our most cherished memories.
4. Change Your Environment, Change Your Perspective
I originally started walking before creating Kinacle, as a way for me to clear my mind and generate ideas.
If you feel stuck in a rut or you want to change the way you think, the easiest way you can do that is by changing your environment.
Have you ever noticed that your entire thought process changes, depending on where you are, or who you’re with?
You think and act differently when you’re at work, vs at home. Or when your kids leave for a bit. Your thoughts, concerns, problems, and visions all change.
Walking does the same thing. It puts you somewhere different, which can help you shape the way you think and feel about things.
This is why walking is so beneficial for creative problem solving – and why it can be a great way to connect with your children on a deep, emotional level.
5. Positive Habits Build Discipline
…Which helps in building more positive habits.
I suppose this is the same with all forms of exercising, provided it’s done consistently.
Keeping any sort of schedule is tough. There will be days where you don’t really feel like walking. The weather outside may not be the greatest. As far as building discipline goes, these are actually the days that end up helping you the most.
The act of pushing through with something you don’t really feel up for, improves your willpower and strengthens you mentally.
This not only sets a positive example for your kids (who, like all of us have to use willpower to overcome challenges), but makes it easier to continue building even more positive habits.
Having worked with many ‘successful’ people over the years, it’s amazing to me how much the little things – like going on a walk when you aren’t really up for it, ended up turning into the big things later on.
It is easy to say no and let your routines slip… but I’m convinced that a little bit of discipline is what has helped Amara and I live such fulfilling lives.
6. Enjoy All Of These Benefits For Free
Finally, we have a simple benefit that is often overlooked. Walking is free!
Not every date needs to cost money, and let’s be honest – going out as a family can be expensive, especially if you are paying for 3 more people. Walking is something you can do as a family without having to worry about budgeting, or having to race out the door. It can be done almost any time of the day and there won’t be any problems if you’re late.
Sometimes as parents, it can feel like we’re spending more time preparing for wherever we’re going, than actually going there. No wonder it can feel like we’re getting nothing done!
If you want to save a few bucks, consider making walking itself a fun and therapeutic event rather than going something expensive.
Besides, it’s these simple memories that often make us feel closer anyway.
Walking is a free, simple activity that almost anyone can do.
Given the sheer number of benefits that it provides (and there are far more than those just listed here), it’s certainly worth considering.
That being said, don’t feel like you need to start walking every day, or even multiple times per week to see the benefits. Although the benefits are likely to be more dramatic if you walk more frequently, even walking once a week can do wonders for your mental health – and the relationships you have with your partner and children.
We’d love to hear more about how walking has benefited your relationship and your family. Please feel free to share your story through the comment form below!
Thank you for reading,
– James McAllister