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One Step at A Time: How Walking Can Help Your Thinking

Beyond a simple way to stay healthy physically, walking can help clear your head and stimulate your thinking. Read on to learn more about the connections between walking and thinking, and some steps (pun intended) you can take to help incorporate walking into your work habits.

As Ferris Jabr elaborates in his New Yorker piece, Why Walking Helps Us Think: “When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain.” Additionally, “walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.”

A 2014 Stanford study about walking and thinking further found that where you walk doesn’t matter. Discussing the research, the Stanford News noted that “walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration” and “across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.”

Many of us sit nearly all day at our jobs, so how do we incorporate walking into our work life? Especially on days when we’re incredibly busy but a walk might do us the most good? Devin C. Hughes put together some tips for making a walk part of your routine as well as strategies on how to get the most out of your stroll for Medium. Here are some highlights from his list:

  1. Make sure you have comfortable shoes. If your feet are uncomfortable, you won’t be able to focus on your thoughts.
  2. Create a solid block of time in your day to go out and walk around. Whether it’s during your lunch hour or in your off time, it’s important to have time reserved. Even ten minutes will do you some good.
  3. Choose a route that won’t have you crossing too many busy streets or having to think too much about your surroundings. Obviously, you need to maintain a certain level of awareness of your surroundings, but the less you have to think about external factors, the more you’ll get from your walk.
  4. Carry a small pocket notebook (yes, you could use your phone but it may be too distracting) so that you can capture fleeting thoughts that may be an integral part of the solution you’re seeking.
  5. Be mindful of what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t force the thoughts, but try to not worry about what you’re going to cook for supper or whether or not you remembered to pay the water bill.

Lastly, make it a practice and a part of your daily habits so walking feels less like an additional task and more like a part of your routine. On days where taking lunch feels like a struggle, take a pace around the office. It may not be enough to reach all the benefits but even a little walking goes a long way.

Do you use regular walking breaks already or have another routine that has been working for you? Email us at io@idealist.org to tell us about it.

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