Take an “Awe Walk ” to Improve Brain Health

Looking for activities to share that are also stimulating and excellent for your brain health? Learn how focusing on ‘awe’ in a walk or other aspects of your day-to-day life can improve your mood and your brain.

“Awe walks” help brain health of those with cognitive loss or dementia. They are more positive, less stressed and they SMILE.

I was taking a walk this morning on a wooded path and breathing in the crisp New England air, noticing the first few trees changing from summer’s greens to fall’s reds and golds and feeling the awe of it all. And feeling so good. I remembered an article I read last year , as summer turned to fall, by authors from UCLA/Trinity College in Dublin on “Awe Walks” for older adults living with cognitive loss or dementia. The participants in that study who took “Awe Walks” felt good – they describe more positive emotions and less distress than those who just took a walk.  The walks helped their brain health.

Awe Defined

How do you take an awe walk?  It’s simple, really.  Just take a walk and look for an “awe experience”.   

Let’s let the experts describe awe for us.  Awe is a “distinct and powerful emotion with two defining features.  First, awe involves perceptual vastness, which is the sense that one has encountered something immense in size, number, scope, complexity, ability, or social bearing (e.g. fame, authority). Second, awe stimulates a need for accommodation; that is, it alters one’s understanding of the world. These features of awe are intertwined, so that events that expand one’s usual frame of reference – such as natural events (e.g. thunderstorms), personal transitions (e.g. childbirth), or unfathomable structures (e.g., the Grand Canyon) – stimulate new mental models.” (Rudd, Vohs, Aaker 2012). 

The Benefits of Awe for Brain Health

Those that took a 15 minute walk once per week, seeking awe.  They found it. They described experiences of finding awe in the nature around them.  The participants reported greater joy, more ‘pro-social’ positive emotions, and less stress.  And, surprisingly, their selfies (part of their homework during their walks) showed broader smiles and they became less a part of the picture and the world around them became more of the picture. 

An “Awe Walk” for Brain Health How-to

All these things are good for you, whether you are living with dementia or caring for someone who is.  How can you incorporate awe into your day-to-day?  Start looking for it! Nature abounds! As I sit and write this blog, I have turned on a medley of classical music – I admit it has stopped me several times in a sense of awe!  Put on a YouTube time-lapsed video of the Grand Canyon and watch it together.  Put a bird feeder or house suctioned to the window to watch birds come, feed, build a nest and lay eggs. 

Consider This

  • Awe experiences are good for our brains and to keep our emotions on the positive side. 
  • Experiencing awe is simple and does not take special equipment – it can be done from any chair, walk, place
  • Stress reduction is good for all – and can be done together
  • Finally, for tips on how to help you as the helper, sign up here.

References for Awe Walk for Brain Health

Sturm, V. E., Datta, S., Roy, A. R. K., Sible, I. J., Kosik, E. L., Veziris, C. R., Chow, T. E., Morris, N. A., Neuhaus, J., Kramer, J. H., Miller, B. L., Holley, S. R., & Keltner, D. (2020). Big smile, small self: Awe walks promote prosocial positive emotions in older adults. Emotion. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000876

Rudd, M., Vohs, K.D., & Aaker, J. (2012). Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being. Psychological Science, 23, 1130–1136.

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