Why is taking a walk good for learning?

Caminar beneficia el aprendizaje

Walking benefits learning.

In an age dominated by technological tools, walking is a powerful practice for learning.

Technology education has opened up a range of possibilities for the development of cognitive skills for girls and boys. The learning of digital skills through computer science is one of the bases of current academic programs since it is a large part of how students interact with their surroundings.

This may lead to the belief that practices not directly related to the digital world are merely incidental activities, i.e. they have no place in the way we learn in the 21st century. For example, learning cursive handwriting or simply reading physical books have moved from being standards of learning to habits understood as part of the counter-culture. In that sense, perhaps there is no practice so often overlooked – even by traditional education – as the mere action of walking.

Walking, of course is not something new for human beings walked upright even before they thought and create. However, walking on two legs was the evolutionary barrier that we crossed to become hominids, unlike other primates. 

Walking is deeply related to how our brain works. When we walk our heart speeds up, pumping more blood and oxygen to our muscles and brain, creating new connections and neural growth and improving attention and memory. In fact, it has been proven that after walking you can improve in tests of both skills.

Walking not only has a chemical and physiological impact that we are not aware of, but it also impacts how we behave and think as we walk. When we walk at our own pace or with no apparent goal, our body connects our mood with the speed of the walk. That is, our thoughts synchronize with our walk. This synchronization is not something that exists organically in other activities, at least not in such a simple way. 

Because our thoughts are connected with our walk and a walk does not require specific concentration, unlike when we run or jog, our thoughts and ideas are the main focus of concentration; we may notice details that we had not noticed or come to different conclusions than usual.

It has been proven that walking through a grove, a park or any natural environment favors attention and relaxation, while walking through an urban environment leads to an immediate state of stimulation and understanding.

Walking and thinking have often been activities linked to great historical figures who came to these practices, not only as a habit of relaxation, but as a primary mechanism of creation.

According to the English writer Thomas de Quincey, the poet William Wordsworth travelled around 175 to 180 thousand miles (281 to 289 thousand kilometres) in his lifetime. Besides being a tireless walker, Wordsworth was also the writer of the poem “The Prelude”, one of the most remarkable writings of English Romanticism, composed of thousands of verses that describe the young poet’s early life and in which walking is a fundamental part of the birth of his creative mind. 

Similarly, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau based an important part of his Romantic philosophical theory on the action of walking. So did existentialist Søren Kierkegaard.

Besides the fact that walking links ideas with the body and helps us think creatively, it is also an organized and purposeful social activity. Such is the case of hiking and scouting organizations aimed at children and young people, whose principles of human development are linked to activities such as hiking and contact with natural life. 

This thought of education through physical activity and personal discovery is part of the Finnish education curriculum; it is present in the architecture of the Youji no Shiro kindergartens and nurseries and is the backbone of the Montessori method. 

Physical activity expands and enhances the learning program. Although walking may not be part of a curriculum model, it can be part of our daily lives in a more remarkable way and, above all, of the lives of the youngest. Walking 15 or 20 minutes daily will help them understand different points of view than they are used to, including connecting with themselves.

Although digital skills are fundamental in modern education, we should not leave behind practices and habits as human as writing by hand or walking, because they invite us to reflect on who we are, what we have learned and what we still have to learn.


Sources and references.

Jabr, F. (2014, 14 September). Why Walking Helps Us Think. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/walking-helps-us-think

Reynolds, G. (2018, 31 October). Even a 10-Minute Walk May Be Good for the Brain — The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/24/well/move/exercise-brain-memory-fitness-cognitive.html

Solnit, R. (2015). Wanderlust: una historia para caminar (Andrés Anwandter, trad.) Santiago de Chile: Hueders.