It is the first Wednesday in April, which means it is National Walking Day in the US (although, it applies to everyone!).
The American Heart Association sponsors this day to remind everyone about the health benefits and the importance of taking a walk. We’ve come across three new pieces of research that reveal how walking more, especially in the countryside, can change how we think and the way we use our brains.
A recently published study in America has revealed how walking can bring about positive changes to the brain.
While common sense suggests that a walk can help to make you feel happier and calmer, a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that spending time in nature decreases negative thoughts and depression feelings by a significant margin.
Researchers compared the thoughts and feelings of participants who hiked through an urban or a natural environment. They discovered that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of negative thoughts.
They also found these walkers had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness.
However, the walkers in a more built-up urban environment did not report the same lessening of negative thoughts. The researchers also found that increased urbanisation closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness.
So, to improve your happiness factor, it’s well worth walking as much as you can in the countryside.
In another study, psychologists have found that creative problem solving can be improved by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.
Walkers in the study went backpacking for four days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology. They were then asked to perform creative thinking and problem-solving tasks. Researchers found that the backpackers’ performance improved by 50%.
The conclusion is that both technology and urban noise disrupt our ability to focus on cognitive tasks and so it’s recommended we all spend time outdoors and amid nature to benefit mentally.
A third study finds a positive between hiking and increased hippocampal volume, the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory. This is especially relevant for women aged over 70. The research was carried out at the University of British Columbia and reveals that not only is exercise a great way to improve the memory, self-esteem and release serotonin but it also helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
I wonder how many of us will go for a walk today after reading this blog post…!
And (of course) we believe a walking holiday is the ultimate in brain-boosting travel.
Inspired to go out for a walk? Great! Do it today, put your trainers on and enjoy a walk in the park, switch all or part of your work commute or use your lunch breaks to go for short walks. You can also plan a walking trip!
This is an updated version of a blog post which was originally posted in 2016.