It’s that time of year again: a new school year is about to start and spring is just around the corner. While the winter vacation was probably a chance for many to get some much-needed rest and relaxation, for people like me the new season and the new semester signal a chance to return to a regular, healthy lifestyle. The irregularities of winter semester classes and the hibernation-like existence of time spent at home out of the cold will soon give way to the joys of warmer weather and the reassurance of being human that comes from spending time meeting and talking to other people face-to-face!
These might be among the most noticeable changes that improve our mood when going back to school, but a growing body of evidence indicates that one of the things we do everyday – often without even noticing – plays a major role in raising our creativity, improving our health and even influences our emotional well-being. What is this amazing activity? It’s walking. Just simple, everyday walking. “How can walking improve my school life in all these ways?” you ask? Let’s examine some of the evidence.
Walking for creativity and inspiration
Some of history’s greatest thinkers have been inspired by (if not obsessed with) walking as a means of refreshing the mind. Aristotle was well-known for conducting lectures while walking with his students. Steve Jobs is reported to have preferred a long walk with someone as the best way to have a serious conversation.
It might even be said that some of the world’s most beautiful music and literature was inspired by walking. Both Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, among others, were well-known for their determination to take long afternoon walks no matter what the weather was like. Charles Dickens found release from the pressures of writing only by taking long walks around London. For Dickens, walks of 30km or more were a normal part of his daily routine.
Walking for health
It’s hardly surprising that walking is considered a good form of exercise. With its promotion of breathing, circulation, and working of major muscle groups, walking is a low-impact exercise that doctors recommend to all from pregnant women to young children. What is surprising, however, is that recent medical research shows simply standing up is much better for our health than sitting down.
One study suggested that an average of six hours per day of sitting down to watch TV is enough to shorten one’s life by up to five years. Ted talk presenter Nilofer Merchant is one among a group of experts who have referred to sitting as “the smoking of our generation.”
Walking for emotional well-being
If walking is good for creativity and for physical health as well, it makes sense that it is an activity that is also closely related to our mental and emotional health. A recent study by Canadian researchers showed that people’s moods were actually affected by changing the way they walked. Walking like a happy person made people feel happier. So what do you think happened to those who tried walking like a depressed person? You guessed it – they became more negative.
If you’re anything like me, as spring begins to unfold you will be feeling that the semester ahead of us, and indeed the whole year, is full of promise. There are difficult classes and tests to be conquered or even just endured. There are relationships to be strengthened with the people who matter in your life.
As the year goes by, I’m sure it will become apparent (as it always does) that these things don’t just happen by themselves, but require a lot of effort and some well-founded strategies. Why not try adding a walk into your daily routine to help de-stress, get some creative ideas flowing, and improve your physical and emotional health? Good luck out there, and happy walking!