What we remember is who we are. The pace of communication among our brain networks governs what we realize and retain. Our creative capacity and solution seeking pursuits depend on how well we discern new information now and associate it with our memories of past perceptions.
Strengthening our competence and our performance in these areas is crucial to promoting and preserving our personal potential.
Happily, there is a simple strategy to accomplish this. All that is required is to go for a walk regularly.
Various research reports demonstrate that walking sustains memory, improves brain function, and enhances creativity.
Sustain Your Memory
The European Journal of Developmental Psychology published a study showing participants, who were assigned challenging tasks that engaged their working memory, “…improved their cognitive performance when walking at their preferred speed as opposed to sitting or walking at a fixed non-preferred speed.”
Improve Brain Function
Another research report found, “One year of walking increased functional connectivity between aspects of the frontal, posterior, and temporal cortices within the Default Mode Network and a Frontal Executive Network…” These networks are crucial in preserving memory recall as we age.
The same report also indicated “…we found that changes in functional connectivity were behaviorally relevant. Increased functional connectivity was associated with greater improvement in executive function.” The study also provided “…the first evidence for exercise-induced functional plasticity in large-scale brain systems…” i.e., providing a new view of the role of aerobic fitness in diminishing age-related brain dysfunction.
A Stanford University study determined that walking improves creativity. This was perhaps the first study to examine the effects of non-aerobic walking. Researchers conducted four experiments to compare the creativity of participants both while sitting and while walking. The participants’ creativity increased by an average of 60% while walking.
One experiment evaluated participants’ creativity by measuring the quality of analogies that occurred to them in a five-minute period in response to a set of three prompting phrases. For example, for the phrase “a candle burning low,” one appropriate response, capturing the essence of the prompting phrase, would be “the last hand of a gambler’s last game.”
All responses were measured as to their appropriateness, defined as being a legitimate analogy. Appropriate responses were evaluated for novelty and quality. At least one high-quality analogy was generated by 95% of participants while walking versus only 50% of participants while sitting.
The other three experiments were administered while participants were in various combinations of walking outside, walking on a treadmill, or sitting. While engaged in these activities, each participant performed two types of tests.
One test measured divergent thinking. Participants were allowed four minutes to think of alternative uses for common objects. For example, when presented with a button, one participant replied with “…a doorknob for a dollhouse, an eye for a doll, a tiny strainer, to drop behind you to keep your path.” This is the type of open, flexible, analogical thinking that identifies many possible solutions to consider in seeking the one that will work. It also characterizes mind wandering that so often leads to an Aha! moment.
The other test measured convergent thinking. Participants received three unrelated words. Then they were asked to think of one additional word that would logically combine with each of the first three words. For example, if the unrelated words were “cottage, Swiss, and cake,” the correct answer would be cheese. This is the type of structured, analytical thinking that seeks the single best or the most highly likely correct solution to a problem or answer to a question.
Across the tests of both types of thinking and all combinations of walking or sitting, participants produced roughly 50% more good ideas when walking than when sitting. Overall 88% of participants increased their number of creative ideas while walking as compared to sitting. Even better, the positive effects of walking persisted over time.
Time To Hit The Trail, The Sidewalk, The Treadmill…Of Your Choice
So, memory maintenance, improved brain function, and enhanced creativity are all ours for the taking. Not only is this simple, getting started doesn’t even need to be stressful. Recall, the benefits shown in the Stanford study were derived from non-aerobic walking, meaning an easy conversational pace, which can be ramped up to an aerobic pace over time as you choose to capture the additional benefits identified in the other studies.