The connection between walking and thinking

The connection between walking and thinking
  • Walking changes our chemistry. The heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen to all the organs and the brain.
  • Walking promotes new connections between brain cells and increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region essential for memory)
  • Walking elevates levels of molecules that stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.
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The way we move our bodies changes the nature of our thoughts. When we stroll, the pace of our feet fluctuates with our moods. We can change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking faster or by slowing down.

While we walk, our attention is free to wander. Studies have linked this mental state to innovative ideas.

Studies suggest that spending time in green spaces can renew the mental resources that get depleted in man-made environments.

A crowded intersection provides numerable and immediate stimulations for the mind, but a walk in a park allows our mind to drift casually from one sensory experience to another.

Walking organizes our world around us. Writing organizes our thoughts.

In a forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, make a mental map of the world, choose a way forward and create that plan into a series of footsteps. In writing the brain has to review its own landscape, find a way through that mental terrain, and write down the resulting trail of thoughts.

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The Slowness Rage

Being passively angry while walking due to others being slower than you is a thing. It is called ‘Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome’ and has many degrees of behaviour, each more violent than the other.

Slowness rage is also found when one is driving, or when a web page is loading, or if the grocery line is, well, slow.

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IDEAS

The pleasure of walking

It was easy to dismiss walking as a form of physical activity until recently. But lockdown has reminded us of the pleasures of walking. Both its physical and mental benefits are being appreciated once again.

To walk to the best of our abilities, we need to walk the way our bodies were designed to - which no longer comes naturally in this sedentary, screen-based era.

As someone who has experienced both chronic and acute back pain, I often walk with a focus on how lucky I feel to be able to walk — and the relief of being pain-free. Or that I have a clean, hot shower waiting for me at the end of my walk. Or I might even focus on the gift of being alive right now, when so many have died.

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