Why Walk?

walking"I walk everywhere in the city. Any city. You see everything you need to see for a lifetime. Every emotion. Every condition. Every fashion. Every glory."-Maira Kalman

Writer, storyteller, and artist Maira Kalman is a proponent of walking as a means of inspiration. As a teacher, she once created an assignment for her students: walk for a half an hour each day for ten days. "No cell phones, no cup of coffee—just take a solitary walk."
Kalman isn't the only person in the creative field who believes walking stimulates the flow of ideas. Writer Susan Orlean recently took up working at a treadmill desk so that she now walks while working at her computer. "There's a psychological benefit that is hard to measure, but feeling that you're active and physically sort of engaged is—it just makes you feel better. While this is anecdotal, I will say, I've written two stories since I've had my desk. Both of them I found very easy to write. I was just relaxed. I felt like my thoughts came flowing very easily, and I didn't get that nervous tension that you get sitting at a desk, trying to think of a lead," Orlean recently said in an interview with NPR.
The physical benefits of walking are well known: walking can help you maintain a healthy weight, it can prevent or manage various conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and it can strengthen your bones. It's also an inexpensive form of exercise; all you need are shoes!
And, as Kalman and Orlean suggest, walking is also good for your mind, providing psychological benefits and boosting your mood. In a study published in January 2011 in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, walking was shown to improve memory. Paula Span of the New York Times explains the study and its results:

Researchers randomly assigned 120 healthy but sedentary men and women (average age mid-60s) to one of two exercise groups. One group walked around a track three times a week, building up to 40 minutes at a stretch; the other did a variety of less aerobic exercises, including yoga and resistance training with bands.

After a year, brain scans showed that among the walkers, the hippocampus (a part of the brain important to the formation of memories) had increased in volume by about 2 percent on average; in the others, it had declined by about 1.4 percent. Since such a decline is normal in older adults, “a 2 percent increase is fairly significant,” said the lead author, Kirk Erickson, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh. Both groups also improved on a test of spatial memory, but the walkers improved more.

While it is hard to generalize from this study to other populations, the researchers were delighted to learn that the hippocampus might expand with exercise. “And not that much exercise,” Dr. Erickson pointed out.

Whether you seek to exercise your body or your mind, it seems that going for a walk may accomplish both. Maybe even while you're out exploring, your next big idea will take shape.
 Post By: Kelly Shetron