Sometimes science jibes with ancient wisdom on simple but deceptively powerful things. Case in point: walking. A wealth of research bolsters the Zen of putting one foot in front of the other, with stronger science than any supplement marketer or brain trainer could hope for. Walking is potent mood medicine that enhances thinking, sharpens memory and safeguards brain health. Here are six reasons why you should make it a regular part of your day if you're able.
1. Walking boosts your mood even when you’re not expecting it. In a recent study, researchers conducted three experiments on hundreds of college students to find out if they’d experience a positive mood boost while walking, without knowing that walking could be the reason. The researchers disguised each experiment as an alleged test of something else, all the while tracking mood changes linked to the simple act of taking a stroll. They found that just 12 minutes of walking resulted in an increase in joviality, vigor, attentiveness and self-confidence versus the same time spent sitting.
2. Walking enhances creativity, especially when you’re seeking a solution. A Stanford study found that walking increased creative inspiration by an average of 60% versus sitting. The effect was evident while and shortly after walking anywhere between five and 16 minutes. The enhancement was specific to a flavor of creativity called “divergent thinking,” defined as a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.
3. Walking sparks connections between brain cells. Never underestimate the power of walking when it comes to sparking communication between neurons and improving brain health. Such were the results of a study on older adults that included walking along with other forms of exercise, finding that: "One year of walking increased functional connectivity between aspects of the frontal, posterior, and temporal cortices within the Default Mode Network and a Frontal Executive Network, two brain networks central to brain dysfunction in aging."
4. Walking improves working memory. If you want to sharpen your recall, lace up and hit the sidewalk. A German study found that performance on challenging working memory tasks improved for participants allowed to walk at their own steady pace, as opposed to a slower pace set by the researchers. The results were more pronounced for the youngest of the study participants, but everyone’s working memory improved enough to give walking yet another smiley face.
5. Walking yields the right rhythm for thinking. One of the more intriguing areas of walking research delves into effects of its steady rhythm on how we think. Studies have examined everything from the brain-spinal-cord connection with respect to this rhythm to the interplay of neurological function, biomechanics and the forces of gravity. The bottom line here is still equal parts science and intuition, but all signs point to walking inducing the right rhythm for getting thinking done.
6. Walking is a powerful way to mainline nature. Research supports what we already intuitively know: regularly spending time outside is a brain elixir like few others. And when you pair walking with your nature boost, it’s a win-win, not to mention a pleasant way to break up the tyranny of sitting. If you don’t have scenic horizons waiting outside your door, no worries–any outside time featuring a steady pace and a little green will work.