I need a breath of fresh air. The sun is shining and in the distance the giant rotor blades of the windmills on the dike are gently turning.
A beautiful day to go for a walk.
Usually when I feel like walking I head to an alder forest nearby, right behind the dunes. The forest is magnificent to behold in every season. With the first steps I breathe in deeply and feel the daily hubbub fade to the background. I love the smell of the humid forest floor, the percussive hammering of the woodpeckers and the way the light filters through the leaves.
Halfway in, there is this bench overlooking a small pond which is home to a rather aloof heron, who after all my frequent visits still refuses to acknowledge my existence and haughtily turns to look the other way.
Many ideas have been conceived on this bench, many problems solved. I might be inclined to attribute magical properties to this particular spot, but it’s not so much the spot that is working its magic, it’s the walk.
Walking boosts creativity
The most insightful realisations and profound ideas have come to me after taking a walk. And apparently that is to be expected, because according to research, walking tends to boost creativity and inspiration. At Stanford University researchers discovered that test subjects who have been walking showed a whopping 60% increase in creativity and resourcefulness when solving a problem, in comparison with test subjects who were sitting down. They discovered that walking in a peaceful environment like nature was to be preferred over walking through a hectic urban environment, but walking on a treadmill also seemed to do the trick.
How walking exactly is able to boost creativity is still a bit of a puzzle, but the researchers attribute a lot to the uplifting and healthy effects of walking, and that walking gives the mind the chance to wander.
Walking is good for your body
So walking apparently gets the creative juices flowing, but how does it work?
In part, walking seems to boost creativity because it is good for your body. Walking helps to increase the oxygen flow to your brain. If your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen you will become unfocussed and your ability to concentrate diminishes. A walk at a moderate pace increases your heart rate which causes you to take deeper breaths. And by breathing deeply more oxygen gets into the bloodstream. The increased amount of oxygen in your blood then helps the brain to work better since it uses 20% of all the oxygen that we inhale.
And walking helps to release endorphins that reduce stress and pain, the reason it is often recommended to people who suffer from depression or anxiety-related disorders.
Walking is good for your mind
So waking is beneficial for clarity of mind and our mental well-being because it calms you down and relieves tension. As the Stanford researchers found out, it is especially beneficial to take a walk in nature. The natural environment reduces the amount of input and stimuli. No advertisements that scream for your attention, no cars or bicycles that might crash into you if you’re not paying enough attention. Though a walk might not be that relaxing if nature equals the jungle with roaming wild animals.
Because of the increased calming effects and the release of endorphins walking could improve your mood and even change your mindset. And since inspiration seems to be connected to a positive attitude and an open mindset, walking could be just the thing if you’re stuck and desperate for a new idea.
Famous creatives love to go for a walk
Scientifically proven or not, many famous people are known for their habits to take long walks to improve their thinking and creativity. Many centuries ago in ancient Greece Aristotle founded his famous walking school, because he had the habit to walk while he was lecturing. Charles Dickens was known to walk more than 30 miles a day to think things through and Ludwig van Beethoven went for long walks in Vienna, armed with pencil and paper to capture inspiration. Charles Darwin went as far as to install a circular gravel path shaped like a race track in his garden, and the number of laps he did corresponded with the difficulty of the problem he was working on. Obviously walking works its magic for them as well.
Finding yourself while walking
Young aboriginal boys traditionally go for a walkabout, a solitary journey on foot through the harsh terrain of the Australian outback. The purpose of this prolonged walk is to connect with their ancestors and discover who they are as an individual.
A walkabout takes months, and in our fast paced modern society we don’t have the time to fit in such a life changing experience. But even if we take small walks we create space and time to think about small things that matter but usually get pushed to the background and reflect on what we do and who we are.
A meditation on foot
Waking apparently gives us the ability to discover who we are and broaden our horizons. Some people have described walking through nature as a sort of meditation, the rhythmic footfalls and the serene environment clearing your mind, making it more open for new inspiration and ideas. That makes sense, because when I’m walking it seems like my mind keeps working on the problem I am thinking about in the background, while I take in the environment and concentrate on not tripping over tree trunks.
Time for a walk
I don’t know how much scientific or historical justification you need to go for a walk. I only know the reasons why I love walking. Being outside in nature and breathing in fresh air makes me feel good. I can lose myself in admiration for the beauty of nature and find myself again when I sit down for a short rest. Walking gives me a reason to get away from my keyboard and computer screen and helps to see everything in perspective. If one thing truly inspires me it is walking. Besides, inspiration for a new blogpost will not pop out of the woodwork if it is the same wall you stare at every single day.
When I put on my walking shoes I think of Friedrich Nietzsche who said: “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” So, I’m hoping for a bit of magic and head to my favourite spot next to the pond with the haughty heron, because there are some things to be mulled over in my mind. They might be trivial matters now, but who knows, after a long walk they might become truly great ideas.