The psychological benefits of walking
Physical exercise has always been associated with muscle toning, calorie burning and disease prevention, but the truth is that its positive effects even impact our psychological side.
In fact, much of the benefit of moving and stretching muscles has to do with improvements not just in how we feel, but in the way we think. And, strange as it may seem, this is evident even in exercise modalities as simple as the routine of walking every day .
Some researchers believe that walking can be a good resource to help us think more creatively. Let’s see why this conclusion has been reached.
Walking to Free the Mind
There are people who, when they try to concentrate, instead of remaining motionless in the style of the sculpture of The Thinker start to walk around, even if they are in a relatively small room .
This fact can be interpreted as a clue about one of the effects of going for a walk: it allows us to think more clearly. This may be surprising, since it would be easy to imagine the opposite effect, i.e. to believe that thinking and walking at the same time is more difficult as they are two tasks that we have to attend to separately. However, this does not happen, because the action of walking acts as a kind of meditation. This is so for several reasons.
The vicious circle that catches our attention
The first reason is that walking serves to release tension. In addition to being useful for exercising many of the largest muscle groups in the human body, walks are a simple way of reducing stress levels, which in itself is positive, since prolonged periods of exposure to stress have a negative effect on our immune system . But there is also another advantage related to the way we walk that makes us manage our attention. Specifically, this activity makes us stop thinking constantly about things that produce anxiety.
Many times, at the moment when something in our daily life produces a certain anxiety or sadness, something that in psychology is known as rumination is produced in us, that is, a tendency to constantly take our thoughts to the origin of that discomfort, which sometimes makes us enter into a vicious circle and feel worse and worse. Rumination is a kind of train track that constantly guides our thoughts towards what makes us unwell, and that is why it feeds on routine.
The more we are exposed to stimuli that we have experienced before, the more likely it is that the focus of our attention will be directed again towards those ideas or memories that produce stress, because we will have already become accustomed to associating everything we do with the negative feelings associated with routine .
Breaking with the preestablished paths
Walking is an experience that allows us to “unhook” our attention from those paths through which our thinking usually runs because, besides reducing stress through light physical exercise, it makes our thinking more spontaneous and improvised when exposed to changing, new environments. And with the perception of new situations comes the ability to think more creatively.
Furthermore, as walking is a very simple task that is usually not difficult to perform, it is not necessary to focus our attention on this sequence of movements .
Walking is relevant enough to make us forget about the circuits of thought we are used to, but at the same time it is simple enough to let our attention find distractions spontaneously.
The process, summarized in its fundamental points, is as follows:
- Sedentariness and monotony mean that our thinking always comes up against the same stimuli and the same references, which always lead us to the same ideas and sensations, trapping us in a vicious circle.
- Moderate physical exercise related to the action of walking makes us feel better , which makes it less likely that our attention is always focused on our concerns, as it changes the way we see the world.
- In turn, the world we look at also changes literally , because we keep moving. As a result, we think in a spontaneous and different way, we find relationships between ideas and sensations that we hadn’t thought of before and we start to create experiences that are very much linked to this creative impulse.
A Creative Path through the Trees
We have already seen that walking has psychological benefits that are easy to find in almost any context, but there is one type of environment that combines very well with this activity: natural environments with vegetation.
The quality of the air in these spaces, the charm of these types of areas and the absence of elements that refer to our routine make natural areas a very good place to go to disconnect from everything and get our creativity and imaginative spontaneity to work.
Since in a place of these characteristics it is difficult for the human body to encounter the discomfort of noise and pollution of cities, it is much easier for the level of stress to fall significantly, making the brain look hands-free to experiment with thought and with the wealth of stimuli that come to it from the environment . Nature is almost always the best canvas .