When it comes to self-improvement and performance improvement, this is an easy one; a no-brainer. No program to follow, no new equipment to buy, no new techniques to learn. Aside from sleeping, eating, and breathing, there is no other activity that can benefit your mind and body more than taking a short walk.
On the other hand, sitting is killing us. Nilofer Merchant summed it up nicely when she stated, “Sitting is this generation’s smoking.” Our bodies are not designed to be folded up in a chair for what is now more than 9 hours a day on average. I could fill several pages with the well-documented dangers of being a professional duff-jockey, but instead let’s focus on the many benefits of getting up and moving.
Here are 5 ways that walking can make you a better, healthier person:
1) Walking Makes You More Creative
I have long realized that taking a walk almost always opens the creative floodgates for me. Ideas, music, and solutions come streaming in when I take a walk. I’ve found that leaving without a recorder or notepad is a major mistake – it’s like going on a butterfly hunt without a net.
Mozart found that his incredible compositions – fully formed – appeared to him on long walks in the evening. Emerson said “Methinks my brain starts working when my feet start moving.” But the evidence is not all anecdotal. A recent Stanford study found that creative output and insight increased for walkers by a whopping 60% compared to those who sat!
2) Walking Re-Energizes You
Western science has proven what more reflective cultures have know for eons: Working in a rhythmic way – moving regularly between intense focused work, and relaxing, recharging activities – improves productivity, stamina, health and creativity. Taking regular walk breaks is a great way to provide the balance that leads directly to better performance and health.
This same rhythmic work cycle also activates the creative cycle, which is why walking improves creativity so much.
3) Walking Makes Your Brain Work Better
Walking (and exercise in general) has a dramatic positive impact on your brain in pretty much every way we’ve found to measure brain function: Long term memory, attention, reasoning, problem solving, etc. It also nourishes brain tissue and stimulates its production of neurons, synapses, and blood vessels.
So how much does it take? Not much. 30 minutes 2-3 times a week. You get even more benefit if you add in some strength training. The benefits to your brain come quickly (within weeks) when you start, and they disappear just as quickly when you stop.
Hint: Don’t stop.
4) Walking Unleashes Dramatic Health Improvements
Walking has many powerful benefits. For starters it lowers your risk of heart attack, stroke, and cancer by more than 50%! It also reduces your chances of dementia and Alzheimer’s by more than 50%. I won’t bore you with more of the seemingly endless list of benefits, but trust me it is a long one!
5) Walking Reduces Stress
Chronic stress is poison. It is like an acid that silently eats away at your physical, mental, and emotional health and performance. More than 70% of doctors visits are now stress related! Taking regular walking breaks allows your body and mind to release that pent-up stress, reduce anxiety and tension, and activate your body’s anti-stress defenses (the Relaxation Response).
If the thought of being unproductive for a whole 30 minutes is too much to swallow you can find creative ways to use that time. Steve Jobs was a big proponent of the walking meeting. A CEO I know would use that time to return his telephone calls for the day. My recommendation: Let your brain take a break during that time as well.
Have you found clever ways to integrate walking or other exercise into your workday? I’d love to hear about them!
If you’d like more performance tips, download my free eBook.