A while back I wrote a post called The Learning Walk: A Primer which proved to be quite a bit more popular than I expected. A recommend reading it – everything I say in it still holds true – but the main idea is that walking is a simple habit that can contribute significantly to learning.
Since that time, I’ve come across any number of articles and studies that confirm the benefits of walking. For the purposes of this post, I thought I’d highlight two: one that addresses the mental health benefits of walking and one that highlights its impact on creativity.
Not all learning walks are equal. In a recent New York Times article titles How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain, health writer Gretchen Reynolds discusses how walking in nature – in a park, or in the woods, for example – can “may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health.” Walking in an urban environment does not have the same impact.
This claim is based on a recent study by Stanford researchers that found that individuals who “went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.” This study was a follow on to an earlier study suggesting that walking in nature improves both mood and cognitive abilities.
The bottom line is that there is mounting evidence that walking in nature makes you feel better mentally and may improve your ability to think.
Speaking of walking as fuel for thinking, a New Yorker article Why Walking Helps Us Think by Ferris Jabr links to a range of articles and studies on the connection between walking and thinking. Jabr also highlights another Stanford-based study that purports to “directly measure the way walking changes creativity in the moment.”
In the Stanford study, researchers Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz tested the performance of seated individuals and individuals who walked on various creative thinking tasks. They also tested whether walking outdoors, as opposed to on a treadmill, made resulted in differences in performance . Walking, in general, improved creativity significantly, but walking outdoors produced the biggest impact. Overall, Oppezzo and Schwartz concluded that walking “opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”
If you have not yet made the Learning Walk a part of you lifelong learning habits, I hope this extra bit of data, in combination with my original post, will sway you. The greatest thing about walking, of course, is that – assuming you have no physical limitation – it requires nothing you don’t already have. If you are able to get outside and walk in nature, all the better, but walking of any type is beneficial. The key is just to get up and go.
I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.