The Surprising Science of Walking

Book Review: The Surprising Science of WalkingBy M.R. O’Connor June 2020

Walking on two legs remains a special adaptation of our species; it freed our hands to engage in other activities such as carrying food or weapons, which further fueled our exceptional evolution.

walking has not only been crucial to human evolution but is essential to our health.

We are always told that walking is good exercise and we should do more of it, but  I can’t walk too long because of the repetitive hip motion. Why is that aspect of walking never mentioned?

With each step, the femur (thigh bone) grinds the same back-and-forth pattern into the hip socket under the load of our body weight. If I walk on a consistently flat surface (like sidewalks) it feels as though a painful groove is being worn into my hip socket.

Then, I have to find a way to change the pattern of my movement by changing the slope of my walking or walking on rough ground. When my foot lands at various angles on uneven surfaces, these positional changes slightly alter the alignment of the femurs in their sockets.

Instead of using the sidewalk, I walk in the grass or packed dirt beside it. Just that little variety in femur position can prevent my pain from the accumulated physical stress of repetitive motion.

Walking on two legs remains a special adaptation of our species; it freed our hands to engage in other activities such as carrying food or weapons, which further fueled our exceptional evolution.

walking has not only been crucial to human evolution but is essential to our health.

Studies show that regular walking mobilizes changes in the structure of our brain that can increase volume in the areas associated with learning and memory.

Though I’ve been a “walker” all my life, I never imagined that walking could alter my brain structure.

He dedicates a chapter to the science behind human navigation and describes how the selective memories of our wanderings are central components of our experiences and ability to make “maps of the world we have experienced.”

O’Mara argues that walking influences many aspects of cognition — how we think, reason, remember, read, and write.

In particular, there is a vital relationship between movement of the body and the flow of thinking. “Since antiquity it has been recognized that a good walk is an excellent way to think problems through,” he writes.

The neural reasons for this relationship are only now being revealed through research that shows we have two main modes of thought:

  1. active mode and
  2. mind-wandering.

It’s the latter that walking can stimulate, allowing our minds to drift and “integrate our past, present, and future, interrogate our social lives, and create a largescale personal narrative.”

“Walking is holistic,” writes O’Mara. “Every aspect of it aids every aspect of one’s being.”

In the end, O’Mara’s strongest message is that we should all be walking a lot more — it’s plainly good for the body and spirit, and

“It will repay you in more ways than you know.”

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