Why Walking Helps Us Think + Create

In this week’s New Yorker, Ferris Jabr describes research that shows why walking goes beyond being a great physical exercise, but a catalyst for creative thinking as well:

What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. 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 both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.

…Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. 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

…Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight. 

Where we walk matters as well…A small but growing collection of studies suggests that spending time in green spaces—gardens, parks, forests—can rejuvenate the mental resources than man-made environments deplete.

We go for a walk daily in the park we look out on. And every time, we discover something new AND find our mind shifting, ideas sparking, problems beginning to yield. Nature reminds us of possibilities…

…whether it be trees valiantly growing in rock…

Fast Forward

Fast Forward

…or a brilliantly-hued lichen-covered wall that was just there for a day…

green wall Marcus Garvey Park 2

…or a random message left in chalk…

Sally Schneider

Sally Schneider

Take a walk to spark ideas!

Painting: Taking a Line for a Walk by Richard Tuvey

2 Responses to Why Walking Helps Us Think + Create

  1. pippin 09.10.2014 at 6:56pm #

    Sally – we are InSync! I take a daily walk, partly because I have to – the poor pooch has to pee – but also to think. There is a note in my daily file which reminds me what the walk is intended for and to remember an important item. here is my memo:

    Walks:

    Disciplined daydreaming
    – take notebook

    I was listening to an audio book the other day and there was a line in it – something like “the only true view is the one directly above your head. all other views are crowded.” I looked up and there was a fantastic cloud formation above me.
    I’ll have to make an addendum to my note:

    – look UP

    Pippin

  2. Sally 09.11.2014 at 8:44pm #

    Ah, nice. “Disciplined daydreaming.” Or perhaps it is just making time/space for daydreaming. Thank you Pippin.

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