Go take a hike.

Ever heard this phrase before? Not always the nicest thing to hear, right? But what if “taking a hike”—simply walking—is just what we need to get smarter and feel better? What if this ageless wisdom will help us think better and smile more?


As it turns out, for our own health and mental performance, one of the best life hacks that we can incorporate into our busy lives is frequent walking.

That’s right, walking.

Where did I get that one, you might ask?

Well, as mentioned in my previous article, “Soil Spirituality,” I have learned a lot from my Grandpa Bear—especially the importance of three key activities: gardening, reading, and…you guessed it: walking.

It is remarkable how my grandfather—through the decades in which our society saw drastically increasing automobile dependence and hyper-accelerating pace of life—maintained a slower, steadier pace. A slower, steadier pace that, I am convinced, has caused him to live an extraordinarily long, healthy life. He will be celebrating his 99th birthday next month!

Whether alone, with a friend, a (lucky and happy) grandchild, or a trusted canine companion, hardly a day went by—all year long—that my grandpa wouldn’t take a good, long walk.

I am convinced that his regular, extensive walking is a primary reason my Grandpa Bear has lived so long and maintained such mental clarity. And I am not alone in this perspective.

As Gary Snyder wisely tells us: “Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.”

Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and kinesiologists are connecting the dots between rates of regular walking and cognitive performance, physical health and emotional well-being. Say again? You got it: walking a lot makes us smarter and helps us feel better.

Think better, smile more.

Hard to believe?

Let’s take a quick “stroll” through some of the latest science:

As indicated by Dr. Susan Whitbourne in her Psychology Today, article “Get Out and Walk! Your Brain Will Thank You,” walking enhances not only brain health in general, but memory in particular. Whitbourne and other scientists are discovering the wondrous plasticity of our brains, and how simple, routine aerobic activities can enhance our brains’ performance and function well into old age. Whitbourne cites research published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh, where the data shows that walking prevents and delays cognitive decline. Particularly noted were growth in the hippocampus—a region of the brain that often shows shrinking in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease—along with improved memory. Regular walking, Whitbourne writes of subjects in the study, “increases their memory scores.”

Of course, as an alternative to the extended periods of sitting that are now so pervasive in our culture, walking provides substantial benefits. Citing research recently published in the journal Circulation, Suzy Strutner writes in her Huffington Post article, “Sitting All Day Is Even More Dangerous Than We Thought,” that numerous and frequent interruptions to sitting, by getting up and walking around, measurably reduce the negative health impacts resulting from too much sitting.

So, as you see, the science is starting to catch up to my Grandpa Bear’s ageless wisdom.

But all of this has gotten me thinking even more about our life choices, and the degrees to which we choose between sitting, standing and walking. (Even as I write this very sentence, I have just transitioned from sitting to standing at my elevated laptop—and feel much better when I do!)

Let’s get a bit outside the box here and muse a bit.

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