Taking time for a walk can be one of the simplest ways to beat stress. According to neuroscientist Shane O’Mara, DPhil, an afternoon walk may just the thing to reduce stress or get some peace of mind.
“Our sensory systems work at their best when they’re moving about the world,” O’Mara says in a recent interview. “The brain systems that support learning, memory, and cognition are the same ones that are very badly affected by stress and depression… And, by a quirk of evolution, these brain systems also support functions such as cognitive mapping.”
O’Mara likens ‘cognitive mapping’ to our mind’s internal GPS.
O’Mara also considers the brain to be “motor-centric” – that it supports movement so, if we stop moving about, it does not work as well.
Perhaps this explains why the great thinkers, artists and composers of the past favoured taking a walk to boost their creativity.
This is very likely the case as O’Mara explains, “from the scientific literature, that getting people to engage in physical activity before they engage in a creative act is very powerful.”
The effect can benefit our mood as well as our creativity. Going out and walking gives you a chance to fill your mind with other thoughts. And if you can get out to a park or some open-air places, breathing the air and enjoying the scenery can be a natural stress-relief.
Walking can loosen up your muscles and help you feel physically relaxed. That can help to feel mentally relaxed too. And, as O’Mara says, “you don’t need to bring anything other than comfy shoes . . . You don’t have to engage in lots of preparation; stretching, warm-up, warm-down.”