By Ken Reed

I was once told about some study that says simply by standing up — instead of sitting — you are eight percent smarter. And if you are walking vs. sitting you’re smarter yet. I never tracked down the study to examine the methodology, etc., but it intuitively made sense to me.

For a long time, I’ve gone on walks when something was bothering me, when stricken with “writer’s block,” or if I was working on an important project and needed to come up with some type of solution. I’ve long been an advocate for walking and believe when it comes to walking we can all be athletes, regardless of athletic ability.

So, I was excited to read an article entitled, “Why Walking Helps Us Think” in The New Yorker by Ferris Jabr.

Jabr succinctly summarizes the benefits of walking:

“When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.”

For some reason, people — even some psychiatrists and psychologists — tend to separate the brain from the body. School boards drop physical education classes and recess for more seat time in a misguided effort to improve test scores. If educators want students to perform better on standardized tests, or other intellectual challenges, the best thing they could do would be to send the students outside for a 20-minute walk (or jog) around the school building.

Jabr’s article reviews some recent, and not so recent, studies on the benefits of walking — especially in nature — for the brain. Jabr’s focus in this piece is on walking’s benefits for creative pursuits like writing. But the research supports using walking to spur productive thinking in any pursuit.

So, the next time you have an important phone call, one in which you have to be at your sharpest — no matter the subject — get up from that office chair and start walking (or at least standing). There’s a good chance you’ll be more productive on the phone call and feel better physically and mentally when the call is over.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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