Taking a walk today may just be the best thing you can do for your mental health and your well-being. It might make you just a bit cleverer and creative too!
It has been known for some time that walking of all sorts is beneficial for our sense of well-being. But more recent research is emphasising just how important it is. We are, it seems, walking animals, we have evolved to walk and think as an integrated and contiguous activity. We should not think of our brain as some sort of captain directing all our actions and behaviours but rather that our bodies and brains are continually interacting to make sense of the world that we are in and to enable us to survive. For example our feet have pressure sensors which communicate directly to our brain when we were walking with our full weight on them to increase the blood supply to our brains to enable it to function more effectively.
It seems that if we don't walk enough, we lose a lot: creativity, memory capacity, cognitive skills and computing power. We are also more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Our sedentary life, stuck in front of a computer, tablet or phone screen may be behind two disturbing trends in human potential. One is a global trend in which performances on intelligence tests having risen consistently decades has during the last two showed a significant decline. The other is an accelerating decline in our ability to be creative. Kyung Hee Kim, who is professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg has demonstrated that standardised scores on creativity tests have been declining significantly for the last few decades.
There could be reasons other than more sedentary lifestyle for these effects but controlling for these factors does suggest that our lack of locomotion is not doing us any good at all.
Good news! It's not just fast-paced, power walks that are required, in fact it may be that slower paces can be specifically beneficial. In my book How to Survive and Thrive in an Impossible World, I suggest that "sauntering", may be the best thing of all. Sauntering at 1 mile every 20 minutes seems to dramatically improve our mood and our ability to think clearly. It can lower depression, anxiety and pain severity. Latest research has shown it is also very useful psychologically to be aware that you are moving forward.
If I think about, it most of the ideas and insights I ever have are gained when I have put one foot in front of the other and kept going. And it is not just my experience that the problems of the world seem to diminish as I walk away.
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