What do dogs, New Yorkers, and old people after dinner have in common? They walk. No longer is going for a stroll reserved for Lululemon moms with pimped out strollers. Walking can boost your mood, help solve your problems, increase both memory and creativity, and even reverse disease.
Boost That Mood
You know those scientific studies that make you think, "They really put research money into that?" This may be one of ‘em, but it's damn entertaining: A doc named Robert Thayer created a study to compare the mood impact of a ten-minute stroll vs. a candy bar. Depending on how hungry you are, you can guess which one had the best impact. The walkers "sustained higher energy and lower tension for up to three hours after their brief jaunt." For purposes of the study, "jaunt" seems to be the pace you would set if you told someone you'd meet them 5 minutes ago. (1)
The same style of ten-minute walk had a huge impact on how people viewed their problems.
Their formerly insurmountable challenges became significantly more manageable. More pizzazz, less t-t-t-tension, better mood, and I can tackle my pile of problems? I think I'll celebrate with a candy bar. (2)
Going for a walk will physically increase the size of your hippocampus, where memory is stored. What's more, it can take up to "two years off the brain's age."
Creativity to Boot!
Our "default" brain mode is deactivated when we walk. Note: This is nature-walking, not podcast/NPR walking. We relax, tune into our surroundings, and then, best of all, we take that perspective back with us, allowing for more creative thought.
Reverse Disease Like Pepper
Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson's over 40 years ago, John Pepper has no hallmarks of the disease. He gave up his medication over a decade ago, yet there is no trembling or shaking. His gait is steady. Pepper was able to reverse his symptoms through "conscious walking." Both you and I walk subconsciously. We don't think "Place heel, shift weight forwards, bend knee…" But, by giving this type of attention to each movement, Pepper was able to trigger a neuroplastic change in his brain.
By focusing on each step, Pepper was able to rewire his brain to bypass the basal ganglia, a group of structures involved in movement coordination, and instead, teach a different area of his brain to handle the task.
If Pepper's story doesn't convince you of the power of power walking, well, I don't know what will. If you're thinking it seems like something that's going to be hard to implement, take one from Gandhi and begin with one step. Swap out an evening TV show for a walk around the block with family. Take a stroll around the cubicles during your coffee break. It'll be one small step for you, but a giant leap for your brain.
*It's important to note that Pepper is walking for 8k several times a week. If he stops, he reverts. So while neuroplastic change does occur, the change needs to be managed. The fact that this kind of healing can occur from physical activity is so unrecognized, that Pepper's book was rejected by medical professionals. (3)
(1, 2) The Thin Woman's Brain: Rewiring The Brain For Permanent Weight Loss, Suriel, Dilia; 2013.
(3) The Brain's Way Of Healing, Doidge, Norman; 2015.