Take a walk to clear your thoughts

Take a walk to clear your thoughts

Lately, I’ve taken to walking to declutter my mind and undo the knots.

I still enjoy sweaty high-intensity workouts, but it doesn’t clear my thoughts the way a long walk does.

I’m more mindful of my surroundings since I know my intention is not to trim and tone, but to oxygenate the foggy brain.

Is this a sign of ageing? Perhaps.

Walking has always been the recommended activity for elderly people because it’s gentle on the joints, has a low risk of injury, and doesn’t require special skills as it comes naturally to us.

The majority of urbanites live in a stressful environment where a good part of our lives is spent indoors, and often, sitting.

Indeed, we can no longer just run out to the open field (if there are any left), stroll through a forest and hug a tree, or traipse along cobblestone streets. We have to wait for the weekends to go to nearby trails for a crowded hike. Some of these hills are so packed; there is actually a human “jam” inside the forest!

Once I waited 20 minutes to cross a suspension bridge inside a forest park because of a steady stream of hikers from the opposite direction.

Standing at the same spot attracted dozens of mozzies and other insects, leaving me itching and irritated. So much for an energising weekend hike.

As we age, the urge to become sedentary increases, sometimes to devastating effects. Hence, it’s important you don’t let this happen.

While there are a myriad of physical and health benefits to walking, did you know that a simple walk can kick your creativity into gear?

Some of the most accomplished and creative people in history found walking an integral part of their lives and credited it as one of the reasons for their success as artists, creators, writers, musicians and thinkers.

This bunch includes author Charles Dickens, poet William Wordsworth and composer Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Greek philosopher Aristotle was famous for conducting his lectures while walking the grounds of his school in Athens.

Aristotle was a believer in the benefits of walking while learning, and walked the talk during his teaching sessions. — Wikimedia Commons

Apparently, his pupils followed him around, and came to be known as peripatetics – Greek for meandering or walking about.

A Standford University study found that walking increased creative output by an average of 60%.

Researchers labelled this type of creativity “divergent thinking”, which they define as a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

According to the study, “walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity”.

Co-authored by Marily Oppezo and Daniel Schwartz and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, the study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration.

The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.

“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why,” Oppezzo and Schwartz wrote.

Long periods of walking have also been proven to improve insulin sensitivity and blood lipid levels at a better rate than an hour of long, high octane workout.

And a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety.

A wandering mind promotes a mental state conducive to innovative ideas, so engaging in such activities can be beneficial. However, this is not the same as daydreaming while being sprawled on the couch.

In an in-depth article published in The New Yorker, Feris Jabr writes, “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.”

Generally, when we exercise, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles, but to all the organs, including the brain.

That’s why after or during exercise, even very mild exertion enables us to perform better on tests of memory and attention. So, if you’re sitting for a test, go for a walk beforehand to obtain better results.

If your purpose is to burn more calories from walking, then you’d have to raise and lower the heart rate repeatedly, as opposed to keeping it at a steady pace.

Consider interval walking by adding in variations of walking speed so that your heart rate fluctuates, enabling you to burn more fat.

Mixing short, fast walks with longer, more leisurely ones is also an effective way to trim belly fat.

If you don’t enjoy solitary walks, recruit a friend or neighbour to join you.

By having clarity of thought, you can also improve you mood and walk your way to fitness.

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul.