Prayerwalking: Exercise That Benefits You and Your Community
by Janet Holm McHenry
Perhaps in no other recent time have health issues been at the forefront of people’s thoughts, discussions, and behavior as they have the last two months with the quick spread of the COVID-19 virus. It turns out, however, that stay-at-home orders that could help avoid the virus are creating increased cases of anxiety, with symptoms such as racing heart, inability to concentrate, shakiness, sweating and difficulty swallowing.
Exercise is one activity the Mayo Clinic suggests to alleviate anxiety.1 However, working on our health to build resistance has had its challenges, as stay-at-home orders from most states have prohibited people from going to a gym or to workout classes or even to some parks or beaches. Consequently, neighborhood walking has become more popular, with couples or even entire families strolling together.
Walking is not only good for building physical strength, it also produces endorphins, the body’s natural hormones that create a sense of euphoria known as a runner’s high. Additionally, they act as analgesics, which diminish the perception of pain, and as sedatives, naturally calming the exerciser.3
Christians, however, can get an added benefit while they walk. In a time when they cannot go to their churches to volunteer, they can serve their community by praying while they walk. More than twenty years ago when I started prayerwalking, I was falling apart physically, but I also was living under a cloud of depression. Within two months of prayerwalking, my aches and pains disappeared, as did the overwhelming sadness that kept me from living life joyfully.
Whether you are experiencing depression or anxiety or simply sluggishness from weeks of baking and indulging, prayerwalking may just be a life-changing exercise for you. Here are a few suggestions to reduce aches and pains when you start a walking regimen:
- Wear shoes marketed specifically for walking that fit you well. I particularly like a flexible shoe with strong arch support that has good tread on the bottom—like a snow tire.
- Dress for the weather. I can walk year-round, even though we live in the snowy Sierras, because I have gear that keeps me warm. And remember to wear sunscreen.
- If you have any health challenges, you may want to discuss your walking plan with your doctor to get input about your health readiness. You can easily monitor your heart rate with a fitness watch.
- Use good posture with a stand-up-straight alignment with eyes and chin facing forward. Don’t lean forward; you’ll get a backache. Avoid reading your phone for this reason (in fact, it’s just not safe anyway). Bend your arms in a ninety-degree angle and swing them back and forth in sync with your strides. Allow your heel to hit the pavement first, then roll your foot to the ball and toes.
- Don’t stretch first. Walk at a slower pace for the first five minutes, then stretch if you need to. When you finish, stretch your major muscle groups for twenty- to thirty-second holds each.4
Adding prayer into your walks adds purpose and meaning to your exercise. While some pray for personal needs and family members, ministry opens up when you begin praying for your community. This is “eyes wide open” prayer, as you intercede for whatever God puts within your eyesight as you walk. In this hurting world right now, there are many needs. Here’s how you can pray during this pandemic season:
- Retailers: As you walk past stores, pray for God to encourage the owners, managers, and employees with financial provision and blessing. Pray for creative ways for nonessential businesses to sell products so they can not only effectively weather this economic downturn but also build a customer base.
- Churches: Pray for wisdom and strength for pastors and staff, unity, commitment of members to give financially, and creative problem-solving to meet members’ needs and those of the community.
- Schools: Pray for clarity of communication among staff and with students and families. Pray for wisdom and creativity to create equitable instruction for students. Pray that school and community support and encourage the Class of 2020,which is experiencing a great sense of loss. And pray for strength, wisdom, and patience for parents who must navigate home instruction.
- Medical facilities. Pray for physical protection as healthcare workers minister to the sick. Pray for wisdom for diagnosis and compassion and clarity of direction as doctors explain treatment. Pray they can access all supplies and equipment they need to do their job well.
- Senior residences. Pray for health and protection for the elderly living in nursing homes and senior living places, as well as those who provide care.
- Homes. Pray for your neighbors—for health, strength for this journey, financial provision, and marital harmony.
As I pray for the businesses and homes I pass as I walk, I also pray God will greatly bless those who work or live there and that they will understand this favor is coming from the Lord Most High so that they follow and serve Him all their days. No matter what challenges we may face in the coming months, it can be well with our body, mind, heart, and soul when we partner with God for our community.
Janet McHenry is a national speaker and the author of 24 books—six on prayer, including the bestselling PrayerWalk: Becoming a Woman of Prayer, Strength and Discipline. An avid prayerwalker, she lives with her rancher husband Craig in the Sierra Valley, where they raised their four children. She has been featured in many national magazines, including Health, First, and Family Circle for her prayerwalking and may be contacted through her website: https://www.janetmchenry.com.
1 Linda Hubbard, “9 Ways to Tame Anxiety during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Mayo Clinic 7 April 2020. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/9-ways-to-tame-anxiety-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.
2 Kristen Gerencher, “Increase Your Daily Step Count During Coronavirus Pandemic,” Forbes 28 March 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristengerencher/2020/03/28/increase-your-daily-step-count-during-coronavirus-pandemic/#2715daf2b9c0.
3 “Exercise and Depression,” WebMD, 2005-2020. https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1.
4 Janet Holm McHenry, PrayerWalk: Becoming a Woman of Prayer, Strength and Discipline (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2001), 53-68. This chapter goes into detail about equipment, health concerns, and stretching exercises.
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