When you walk, your eyes are given a rest from screens and your brain is momentarily relieved from all the stresses of your working day. And what if I told you that walking isn’t just good for distracting your mind, that it could actually help you focus more effectively instead?
After all, it was William Wordsworth who “wandered lonely as a cloud”, as many as 180,000 miles in his lifetime. Which is apparently just far enough to produce a career-defining collection of some of the world’s most prolific poetry.
So what fuses the connection between walking, thinking, and writing? In this article, we’re going to find out. Keep reading if you’re keen to learn how you can use the most modest of exercises to unlock your cognitive potential.
Benefits of Walking
For starters, walking is extremely beneficial to your health. It is one of the best forms of cardio and a simple and effective way to achieve a number of fitness goals.
Besides increased cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness, it also improves balance and even muscle and bone strength. Getting more steps in every day can also help relieve the symptoms of hypertension, joint pain, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
One of the best things about walking is that it isn’t strenuous, meaning that its benefits can be reaped by people from all walks of life (no pun intended). As well as being accessible and free, it also releases endorphins, which have a positive effect on your mood and general wellbeing.
Walking also promotes circulation so it can help prevent arthritis and ease its symptoms in the long run. So, aiming to walk for 30-60 minutes a day could be just the ticket to improving your overall health, both now and in the future.
Why Does Walking Helps Us Think?
It’s not only Wordsworth. Since the dawn of time, many philosophers have reflected on the inherent link between thinking and walking.
Aristotle was a peripatetic, or “one who paces.” He believed that with walking came conversation, and presumably, contemplation. Even Plato was mocked for tiring his legs as he worked. So what really is it that gets those cogs turning when you stroll and generate ideas in a way that sitting still inhibits?
Let’s take a look at some of the ways that walking helps you think, so you can start getting the most out of your daily exercise.
The changes that walking makes to your physical chemistry are the first things to consider when it comes to heightened thoughtfulness. Since walking is cardio after all, the heart beats faster to pump blood around your body, giving your muscles and brain more oxygen.
Arguably, the brain is the most important organ. In addition to controlling our bodily functions, it also handles the more delicate aspects of human existence, like our thoughts and feelings.
Studies show that research participants perform memory and attention tests far better after even the mildest exercise. In addition, there is evidence that the deterioration of brain tissue that usually occurs with age can be slowed down by increasing your steps.
The repetitive rhythm of your feet against the ground as you walk is also thought to synchronize with the pace of your thoughts. This can make thinking more coherent and continuous when walking, preventing distraction and stimulating creativity.
Most of us know that high-tempo songs motivate faster running and more powerful training sessions, and this has been confirmed by music psychologists. But in the same way, walking at your chosen pace can sync your thoughts to your bodily movement, perhaps even more so than headphone music.
So just like how music can control our energy and effort levels, your walking pace, whether it’s slow or brisk, could manipulate the tempo of your thoughts too. Developing your ability to tune into your mental state will help you to maintain focus while you walk and even speed up your thinking processes.
Your environment also has a huge impact on your thoughts and general mood. As mentioned, it’s great for your mind and soul to get a break from the confined conditions of your working space. This break could actually lead to more productive and positive thinking afterward.
Taking in your surroundings can also switch your focus, shifting the analytical or technical mode of thinking that you may be used to at a desk to a more creative and open one. Regardless of your field of work, exploring new perspectives will always be beneficial, especially when it comes to bringing fresh ideas to your projects.
In addition to the benefits of walking for your body, there’s also a definitive link between an active body and an active mind. As we’ve mentioned earlier, exercise releases endorphins, meaning that moving your body will contribute to a more positive attitude.
With a better mood and an active body, you’re likely to be more productive and think more proactively.
Alternatives to Walking While Thinking
Nevertheless, there are days when walking is not an option. Perhaps you are stuck in your home, quarantined due to sickness, or it’s too cold to go outside. There are similar activities you can do to engage your mind and ensure the most productive thinking, even if a gray day threatens to rain on your parade.
Knitting is a rewarding and relaxing pastime for letting your mind wander. It can be tricky at first, especially for beginners. But once you get the hang of it, your busy hands will leave your mind free as you relax into the rhythm of weaving the wool.
Just like the pace of walking, the repetitive motion you make with the needle could control the pace of your thoughts as well. Allowing yourself the time to think freely could unlock fresh ideas that the pressures from a working environment might inhibit.
Carrying out laborious and familiar tasks is often done on auto-pilot. Vacuuming, doing the dishes, or ironing clothes all fall under this category. When doing these tasks, your mind isn’t burdened with the responsibility of telling your body how to move.
Reclaim your time and feel productive while you’re being reflective. This is perfect if your to-do list doesn’t facilitate a walk. Household chores can also get your heart rate up in the same way as cardio exercises do and can also result in a similar endorphin release.
Frequently Asked Questions About Walking and Thinking
Why do I walk in circles when I think?
When you walk in circles at the same time as thinking, this is often your brain’s way of making a protective environment for contemplation. This pattern means your mind doesn’t have to think about changing paths or straying far, so all your attention can stay on your thoughts, yet you still benefit from the proactivity of walking.
Why is taking a walk good for the brain?
Walking is good for the brain because cardiovascular exercise increases heart rate, pumping more blood and oxygen to your muscles and organs. The brain, as one of your most vital organs, is stimulated by this circulation and this is when your mental cogs will start to turn and remain active.
Where do you do your best thinking?
It is easiest to think in an environment that you find both comfortable and stimulating, like watching a busy street from a distance. This way, your brain is both active and calm at the same time. A neighborhood park is the perfect combination of these things, making it a great location for a reflective walk and some of your best thinking.
A Final Word
Walking is unmatched when it comes to physical activity. It is great for muscles, bones, calorie burning, and even mood. So it’s no surprise to us that it comes out on top for cognitive function. The altered state of consciousness, enabled by a change in environment, the soothing rhythm of your feet on the pavement, and the blood charging to your extremities, could just generate your most original ideas.
The Greek philosophers and great poets of our time clearly had something right, so what are you waiting for? Get out and take this chance to tap into your brain’s unhinged potential through the simplest and most accessible exercise, walking.