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Does Walking Make You Smart? Yes, and In More Ways Than You Think

Walking is a win-win for psychological, cognitive, and physical health

Research suggests that walking may not make you a genius but it will improve your attention and concentration not to mention help your mood, well being, self-esteem, and even your physical health. So, your most important accessory when getting dressed in the morning may very well be your pedometer!

Regular physical exercise such as walking has been demonstrated to help improve both mental and physical health. Certainly the many physical health benefits of regular exercise are well known and researched. Improvements in cardiovascular functioning, weight loss, metabolism, and so forth can be expected with ongoing regular exercise. Psychological and mental health benefits are well known too. Research consistently has found that regular exercise lowers anxiety, depression, and stress and improves well-being and self-esteem. Additionally, cognitive benefits including improved attention, concentration, and problem solving can be found among exercisers too.

Yet, even with all these wonderful benefits of regular exercise the vast majority of Americans don't meet even minimal recommended amounts of exercise. There are a variety of reasons for this lack of exercise behavior among the population including time pressures and lack of commitment to do so. This is one reason why walking is such an important exercise for most people.

Many may not take the time, energy, and money to join a health club or gym or perhaps participate in exercise activities that are harder to accomplish such as swimming, tennis, racket ball, biking, and the like. Many sports are skill based, prone to injury, and cost a lot of money to do (e.g. sailing, golf, polo). Walking is perfect since you can do it anywhere and at any time and it is free with no special skill or expensive equipment needed. Just a decent pair of walking shoes and you are good to go. Most of us can and do walk and must find a way to make that happen at levels that provide us with the many mental and physical health benefits associated with exercise.

One helpful way to improve walking behavior is to always (and I do mean always) wear a pedometer (ok...not in the shower or in bed). They provide ongoing feedback on your walking progress and most professionals suggest aiming for 10,000 steps per day. This translates into about 5 miles of walking. A pedometer is a great motivator since it gives you a fairly accurate description of your exercise activity. Don't go to bed unless you have 10,000 steps or more is the needed daily battle cry. Once you buy into the 10,000 steps program idea then you will hopefully manage your day in a way to get steps. Walks may be long or short but as long as you keep your body moving you'll accumulate steps. Next thing you know you'll walk around the block before a scheduled meeting if you arrive early or you'll park further away from your destination to get some steps. Maybe you'll suggest taking a walk with a friend or colleague rather than sitting while talking. Perhaps you'll walk all over an airport terminal rather than sitting waiting for a flight. Maybe you'll be so pleased with your progress that you'll want to get more than 10,000 steps a day and enjoy getting more and more steps.

Since the mid 1970's I have ran every day for about a half hour. That buys me about 5,000 steps each morning. Walking around during the day usually gets me another 5,000 steps and then my wife and I typically take a walk with our dog at the end of the day getting another few thousand steps. My wife and I find ourselves being highly attentive to the step counter (actually she thinks I'm a bit obsessive about it) and often rather than say, "let's take a walk", we'll say, "let go get some steps!"

While accumulating steps you'll likely notice that your thinking is clearer, you are more attentive, happier, and you'll lose some weight and feel more toned. It is all a win-win.

So, does walking make you smarter? You betcha and in many more ways than you might think.

More from Thomas G. Plante Ph.D., ABPP
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