2 Mar 2018

The Science of Walking and The Art of Problem-Solving

By Larry Verstraete

My wife, Jo, and I are ardent hikers. She more than me, actually. Jo outpaces me on every trail, faithfully charts her steps with her Garmin, and competes with others online. I’m a bit slower, usually a quarter, perhaps a half kilometre behind. I track my steps, too, as well as heart rate and total distance, but I’m more interested in how far I’ve gone.

Recent studies tout the benefits of walking. Moderate walking reduces the odds of heart disease, stroke, insulin dependence and diabetes. It improves mood and sleep, reduces stress and anxiety, boosts energy and increases focus. Walking also changes the brain in remarkable ways.

A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that regular brisk walking increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain region that monitors verbal memory and learning. Stanford researchers, meanwhile, discovered that creativity jumped 60% when subjects walked. Other studies showed that walking for 40 minutes three times a week Increased performance on cognitive tests and reduced declines in brain function as we age. It didn’t matter what kind of walking – whether on a mountain trail or on a treadmill – the benefits were the same.

Many problem solvers incorporate walking into their regimen. Aside from the physical benefits, walking is a way to wipe the slate clean, kick-start creativity, and channel fresh ideas. William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Henry Thoreau were among the many creative types who embraced walking.

“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move,” Thoreau wrote, “my thoughts begin to flow.”

When I walk, my mind drifts which might explain why I sometimes lose sight of Jo and have taken a wrong turn more than once. While that’s not a good thing, the drifting part can be – at least to a writer like me. While plodding a respectful distance behind Jo, I’ve solved problems and come up with some of my best ideas.

Turns out, I am growing my brain too.  Who knew?

Photos by Larry Verstraete. Brain image from Pixabay.

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