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Walking, the easy superpower

Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

One of the very few productivity tips I trust 100% (ok, probably the only one) is the recommendation for getting up and walking around. It’s been proven time and time again by various authors and creatives of all types, as well as by science through research after research. Walking is good for the body, changes the mode our brain is in, and helps get our thinking going.

This piece at the Guardian covers some of those ideas and research behind Shane O’Mara’s new book on the topic, In Praise of Walking.

He favours what he calls a “motor-centric” view of the brain - that it evolved to support movement and, therefore, if we stop moving about, it won’t work as well.

Needless to say, that’s not what many of us do for most of our days. It seems this sitting around and non-movement might even affect our personality.

A 2018 study tracked participants’ activity levels and personality traits over 20 years, and found that those who moved the least showed malign personality changes, scoring lower in the positive traits: openness, extraversion and agreeableness.

I’ll note here that a lot of what O’Mara cites has to do with “movement” which he equates with walking. Granted, it’s probably one of the easiest ways to move, but one assumes that any kind of movement (swimming, yoga, etc.) also fits a lot of the research he bases his comments on even though his preference is clearly for walking.

According to him, it looks like walking might even be good against one of the great problems of our time, stress and anxiety, while at the same time fostering some of the skills we need in many fields of work; learning constantly, memory, and an ability to think on our feet (pun intended) and come up with solutions.

“It turns out that the brain systems that support learning, memory and cognition are the same ones that are very badly affected by stress and depression,” he says. “And by a quirk of evolution, these brain systems also support functions such as cognitive mapping,” by which he means our internal GPS system.

You might even see walking as a kind of superpower, because “when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened.”

As I mentioned earlier, different kinds of exercice and movement could do the job. O’Mara, correctly, raves about walking in part because it’s accessible, easily woven into every day life, and doesn’t require much preparation, if any. His recommendation is pretty simple:

To get the maximum health benefits, he recommends that “speed should be consistently high over a reasonable distance - say consistently over 5km/h, sustained for at least 30 minutes, at least four or five times a week.”

The piece finishes with some words on creativity and multiple examples of authors praising walking, I’ll close with this one:

Only thoughts reached by walking have value.
โ€” Friedrich Nietzsche