What’s it about?

In Praise of Walking (2019), he explores the science behind one of the fundamental skills that define us as humans: walking more can improve your physical and mental health, and at the same time, become more creative and social.

About the author:

The neuroscientist Shane O’Mara is a Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College Dublin. He is Principal Investigator at the University’s Institute of Neurology and a Senior Investigator at the Wellcome Trust. His previous books are Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation and A Brains for Business – A Brain for Life.

What can I get? Find out why walking is good for you. 

What defines us as humans? Our opposite thumb? Our big brains? Our language skills? 

These can make a difference, but another factor is often overlooked: our ability to walk. 

The way humans walk upright on two legs is unique to us as a species. It is an essential part of who we are. However, these days we seem to walk less and less. Instead, we use a car to move from bed to office to couch. 

This book will explain why less walking is a grave mistake that adversely affects our physical and mental health.

Walking seems to be easy, but it requires mental capacity. 

We’re going to talk about how humans walk in no time, but first, let’s look at a very different creature: a tiny sea squid. 

In the early stages of development, marine squirrels dive into rocky pools in search of food. To facilitate this movement, young sea squids develop eyes, brain, and spinal cord. 

But then, one day, the sea squid went through a rather significant transition: he found a stone, pressed against it, and did not move anymore; it gets stuck in place and then eats up the brain, eyes, and spinal cord. You don’t need them anymore. 

Why are we telling you this? The sea squid teaches us this: if you are not moving, you should eat your brain. 

Okay, of course. But people don’t look like regulars! Truth? We might be a little closer than you think. 

Developmental biologists recently analyzed the genes of two different species: the stingray, the fish, and the mouse. Well, our bipedal walking method is more effective. We can travel great distances and carry everything with us, be it children, weapons, or food. 

However, bipedal walking can be effective. While learning, young children average 2368 steps (and 17 falls) per hour. And robots have yet to learn to walk like humans thoroughly. 

We need to thank the brains that we have coped with this challenging task. One thing the brain is good at is maintaining balance. It does this with inertial guidance, which means that it constantly calculates to correct our position. Draw a line from the corner of the eye to the ear; Your brain will always try to keep this line parallel to the ground. 

However, not all aspects of gait are controlled by the brain. The spinal cord holds central pattern transmitters that control the rhythmic patterns required for breathing, heart rate, and walking. 

As you will recall, the spinal cord is another thing that an adult sea squid eats when it is firmly attached to a rock. However, people make the most of our mobility. You can tell the stones are walking!

Scientists are gradually figuring out how our sense of direction works. 

Not only does walking require a brain, but how do we know where to go. 

Put yourself in the shoes of the author. It was a few years ago, before the era of smartphones. From North London, Highgate, you need to walk to your home in Streatham, far to the south. You don’t have a map. 

How do you do it? You are directing a pigeon to stalk your inner prey. Calculating mortality, also known as route integration, is our innate ability to move to a destination in the right overall direction. 

But as far as how it works, scientists are just beginning to understand it. 

Wandering around central London, crossing the Thames, and heading south, the author found his way home, despite traveling to unfamiliar places. Our path is not entirely dependent on visual cues. 

Several studies have shown that our ability to see in space is not highly dependent on our ability to see. In tests that measure sense of direction, blindfolded and visually impaired people behave the same way as people with “normal” vision. 

The neuroscientist John O’Keefe has made some groundbreaking discoveries about how the brain determines our location: he found that when rats wander in a familiar area, some of the cells around the brain’s hippocampus light up. When moving to another place, different cells light up. They are called positional cells. They tell us where we are, people have them, and they work more efficiently as we walk. 

Further research has revealed more exciting types of cells in the brain that help us move. Head direction cells are essentially an internal compass that indicates our direction. Some tiles react to nearby objects. The author himself has worked with peripheral cells that respond to the limitations that surround us. 

In general, the brain more or less has its GPS network, which is constantly updated as we walk.

It is more important than ever that our cities can be walked on foot. 

Suppose you go to Italy and sit on the street one night. You will most likely see locals strolling around the neighborhood, chatting with friends and neighbors. End of the day. 

It is essential to make such a quiet moment a part of our everyday life in our busy daily life, but, unfortunately, our cities do not make it easier for us. 

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities and urban areas, and this number is likely to grow to 80-90% by 2050. City planners tend to take this into account. They are prioritizing traffic flow through cities and less focus on walking. But the benefits of a walking town are enormous: easy access to shops and offices creates a lot of economic activity, as does the walk itself: some economists have noted a negative correlation between the time you spend in the car and its economy.  

With thoughtful urban planning that considers the benefits of walking, trails are not necessarily unique to Italy. The author encourages urban planners to use the acronym SIMPLICITY: cities should be pedestrianized, accessible, safe, and enjoyable for all. 

The author believes that the wrong people do urban planning. Instead of city planners and architects, he wanted to see responsible psychologists and neuroscientists. These are people who know how to make a city pedestrianized.

Walking is the perfect medicine. 

Think about how you feel after an exhausting day at the office or after a day at home. 

You are most likely feeling a little uncomfortable, and there is scientific evidence to support this—your personality changes when you don’t move. Less physical activity leads to a decrease in the level of extraversion, openness, and complaisance. It just changed. It was a change for the worse. 

What was it about inaction that caused this change? Science is incomprehensible. But the author suggests that there is a solution that could quickly reverse this trend. Yes, you guessed it: walking. 

The ancient physician Hippocrates said that walking is the best medicine; Maybe today I will say a few harsh words to those of us who are locked at home or in the office all day. A US study found that humans spend an average of 87% of their time in this built environment. 

Difficult to measure, but research shows that walking, especially outdoors, has health benefits. According to one study, the incidence of depression in the future can be reduced by about 12% of people spend just one hour a week. Another study from the UK found that visiting natural environments such as the countryside or green spaces makes people feel “restored.”

Walking and another exercise also has a positive effect on brain function. Regular walking plays a role in the production of new brain cells that improve memory and learning. In addition, walking affects our muscles – a relationship that can be described by the phrase “it’s worth it, or it’s lost.” The body doesn’t care about maintaining muscles that aren’t used regularly. 

Any exercise will do. So from a health standpoint, outdoor activity does seem like the best. One study in Ottawa, Canada, asked people to walk the same distance on two different routes along a river while others walked through a tunnel. After that, they were asked to rate their mood; those who went outside received significantly higher scores. 

So, whether you want to grow new brain cells, stimulate muscles, or feel a little better, the solution is the same: take a walk in the fresh air. The greener, the better!

Walking stimulates creativity. 

The Irish mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton was working on complex numbers but got stuck. 

Fortunately, however, Hamilton has a habit of walking two hours a day to work in downtown Dublin. And it was during one of these trips that inspiration came: 

i2 = j2 = k2 = ijk = -1

That’s it – the breakthrough I needed. Hamilton took out a razor and carved the recipe on the bridge where he stood. It was an inspiring moment; formulas are still fundamental to studying complex numbers in three-dimensional space. 

Today, mathematicians take the Hamilton Walk every October 16 to celebrate their ascent. 

And all on foot! 

Walking has inspired all kinds of creativity, not just mathematical discoveries. Henry David Thoreau said: “The moment my legs started to move, my thoughts began to flow. William Wordsworth’s poem Tintern Abbey was also written on a long walking tour. Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Only the ideas achieved while walking are valuable. 

But why does walking have such an effect? The answer, you guessed it, lies in your brain. 

Your brain has two modes: active mode and default mode. When your brain is playful, it focuses on the task at hand, doing something in detail, such as counting something. In the default mode, your mind can move freely, explore and process memories. It is not as frivolous as it sounds; It is essential to keep your brain in order and your thoughts sharp. 

Evidence shows that creativity occurs when these two ways of thinking co-occur. And walking is a great way to get your brain to do just that. Walking, or more explicitly moving in space, stimulates the part of the brain around the hippocampus, which is too the part of the brain active in memory. 

Walking may not be helpful for non-creative problems such as math, but for creative problem solving such as finding a new mathematical formula, walking can be beneficial.  

You’ve probably heard people say that you should “sleep” on a tricky question, but why not try and “walk”? The next time you have a challenging problem at work, give it a try.

Walking is communication. 

Not all walking is a solitary activity in which the mind can wander. Walking is profoundly social and fundamental. Mark Twain knows this. He wrote that “the highest joy of walking comes from talking.” 

It is also supported by science. One study found that older adults who walk for about 150 minutes a week were more socially active; They also had higher happiness levels than older people who walked less. Walking is also an essential step in the social development of young children: once they learn to walk, they will play and vocalize more. 

Even some solitary walks have a social aspect. Think about the pilgrimage, people can make them alone, but there is still a more profound sense of solidarity. They bring the traveler together with others who share the same faith or goals, even walking around the city alone. It is determined by people and the crowd what you find along the way. 

But walks with others are perhaps essential and also scientifically interesting. Have you ever noticed how you and your walking mates tend to synchronize your steps? It is normal when walking in groups; however, it is based on a very complex brain process that involves predicting what the rest of the group will do next. It is what robots are not capable of yet. 

It has even been shown that being in a large group induces high psychology. Attending a protest or concert has a positive effect on morale, at least in the short term. 

So, again, it’s time to take our ability to walk seriously! It applies to each of us individually – we must get out of the house or office and stimulate our muscles and brains to receive moral and physical benefits. But this also applies to government policymakers and urban planners, and those working in the health sector. The author argues that people need to be constantly encouraged to walk. 

Our cities should reflect this, not slow down pedestrians, as is often the case. Spaces should be green, and roads should be pedestrian-friendly. Walking is central to what makes us who we are, and as we have seen, it is beneficial to us in more ways than we can imagine.