Walking Quiets The Mind
It helps you live longer to
On one of the daily blogs I read, I was recently introduced to Eric Weiner and his book The Geography of Genius.
Walking quiets the mind without silencing it completely, is a quote from the book confirming one of the many benefits of walking. Weiner, an acclaimed travel writer explores the history of places like Vienna in 1900, Renaissance Florence, ancient Athens, even Silicon Valley. He walks in the footsteps of the geniuses of those times to see if the spirit that inspired Socrates, Michelangelo and Leonardo remains. “What was in the air, and can we bottle it?”
This has piqued my interest in meditation again. It used to be a daily 15 minute, Headspace (1) routine when I was working. I enjoyed it enough to make it a new year’s resolution for 2021, which has still failed to materialise. Is mindful walking the answer?
5 benefits of mindful walking
It’s easier than sitting with eyes closed when the mind often speeds up
We’re more likely to practice because it’s a bridge to everyday ordinary activities
It’s simpler to train your mind because there is plenty to pay attention to
There are lots of ways to do it.
No workout culture in Japan
In a Rakuten Insight survey (2), 1000 Japanese citizens, aged 20 to their 60s revealed that half rarely exercised. They didn’t have time or they didn’t like exercising. A workout culture is not part of their lifestyle which is interesting for a country that leads world longevity and has the lowest rates of obesity.
Japanese adults also happen to walk an average of 6500 steps a day, even more in the 20s to 50s age range. Nagano, a rural Japanese prefecture (3) managed to reduce their high stroke rate by developing 100 walking routes. Their citizens now have the highest life expectancy in Japan.
We’ve all read somewhere that we need to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons why dog ownership during lockdown has increased and why golf clubs have seen a resurgence. We don’t like being locked up and walking was one of the few activities which we could all freely indulge in. A round of golf according to my health app takes 18,000 steps and Ealing is not a particularly long course.
This daily target comes from a 1960s pedometer called Manpo-kei sold by Yamasa Clock in Japan. It translates as 10,000 steps meter. This arbitrary number has proved popular and can still be found on many smartwatches as a recommended daily target.
A recent Harvard Medical School research study has shown that 4,400 steps a day on average is enough to significantly lower the risk of death in women. The road to eternal life, does unfortunately level off at 7,500 steps. There are no further benefits beyond this number, but it’s a good example of small increases translating into significant longer term gain.
Why didn’t I convert sooner?
Probably because I was a runner. Before London, we lived in Wokingham which was blessed with a nearby forest. I used to run with Pogo, when he really could bounce and pogo. He thought nothing of stretching his legs on one of my regular 4 mile routes.
I always assumed that what I did was closely related to meditation because I regularly found myself in a zone or flow state where time fades and focus is easy. I was helped by the environment which was Jurassic Park-esque in places with the paths winding amongst tall ferns under a canopy of mature pine trees. I rarely saw anyone apart from the odd dedicated dog walker and never managed to spot an ancient dinosaur. I did on one occasion almost bump into a deer. We were equally surprised. I stood in awe as the deer wasted no time putting significant distance between me and it in seconds with a few effortless jumps.
On my run, once my mind relaxed, it wandered and I often had my most lucid thoughts, usually about our business. If I wasn’t coming up with new ideas, I was dreaming about success, something I would recommend to anyone starting out with their own business.
Slow down - the benefits of strolling
Our mind is apparently at it’s most creative at 3 mph. Oppezzo and Schwartz, Stanford Uni psychologists divided a group into walkers and sitters.They ran a test to measure divergent thinking an important component of creativity. Creative thinking proved to be significantly higher in the walkers and it didn’t take a long time to achieve; 5 to 16 minutes was a long enough walk to capture the benefits.
A famous point
Maybe Weiner is onto something with his step retracing. Charles Dickens regularly walked 15-20 miles through the backstreets of London at night while he was writing A Christmas Carol. Beethoven was inspired while ambling in Vienna’s woods, Nietzsche in the Swiss Alps. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Swiss philosopher regularly walked 20 miles a day.
“I can scarcely think when I remain still, my body must be in motion to make my mind active.”
Not missing the point
Andy Puddicombe, the brainchild behind Headspace points out, it’s easy to slip into a semi-conscious state, letting the mind wander off. This moves away from experiencing life as it really is, rather than the way we would like it to be. I can definitely be accused of a wandering mind when I used to run, although I was mindful of the track and where to put my feet which immediately brought me back into my surroundings again.
The Ministry of Mindful Walking is a quick one pager which gives some useful pointers for a more, in the moment, walk. I’m also going to try the Headspace app which has a few walk related classes.
1 popular iPhone app
2 Asian market research company
3 Prefectures are government bodies. There are 47 in Japan.