Walk the Thought? Taking Footsteps on the Earth Can Lead to Stronger Pathways in the Mind

iStock_000017252298XSmall.jpegWriters, philosophers, and great thinkers alike have, for centuries, recognized the thought-provoking benefits of the simple act of walking. It may sound pedestrian (pun intended), but the seemingly mundane, everyday act of walking helps us think. Thoreau linked the two when he wrote,

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

A few years back Billy Mills did an article for The Guardian on how walking inspires writers. More recently though, an article in The New Yorker points out links between thinking, writing, and walking that trace to changes to our body chemistry. And walking gets your blood flowing, which has been shown again and again to benefit the brain with a fresh flow of oxygen. The New Yorker article reveals that...

Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that boths timulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.”

And lest you be fooled into thinking that any old kind of physical activity will do, not so fast. The article points out that walking provides a one-of-a-kind experience: much as listening to high-tempo music at the gym will motivate people to work out harder.

When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech; at the same time, we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down.”

 During a walk’s natural steady beat we are free to let our minds roam, taking in the scenery around us, while overlapping it with our own inner thoughts, images, and monologues.

 An exciting new study out of Stanford by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz is one of the first to try and attempt to explain how walking creates creativity in the moment. Participants of that study were found to be far more creative while thinking on their feet so to speak.

 Location seems to play a part, too, since other experiments have shown that participants who strolled through green areas performed better on memory tests than those that walked through the city.

A small but growing collection of studies suggests that spending time in green spaces—gardens, parks, forests—can rejuvenate the mental resources that man-made environments deplete.”

 Whatever you do, wherever you go, the message is clear. To keep a nimble mind, you must use your feet and often.


Read all articles by Juniper Briggs


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