Walking, Writing and Stress Management

After the operation, my surgeon told me that I had to take things easy for a while, so no long walks, no running and certainly no horse riding. Since I was quite determined that the 4th operation in 18 months was going to be a success, I decided to keep to the rules.

I missed not riding, especially as I have only recently started to ride one of the bravest Lusitano stallions I have ever had the privilege of knowing, at Le Domaine de Passage, a Lusitano Stud not far from where I live. I also missed running. I can no longer see well enough to run outside, so I run on my treadmill 4/5 times per week, for about 30 minutes. It keeps me fit. I could, however, survive without walking or riding.

What I really missed, more than anything else, is my long, slow walks. I walk nearly every day, on my own, with a friend or with one of my horses. I don’t walk for fitness; I get enough exercise from running.

  • I walk to spend time communing with nature, to feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the fresh air flowing into my lungs…
  • I walk to get out of my head and away from demands upon my time and attention.
  • I walk to spend time with someone who is important to me.
  • I walk as an exercise in mindfulness. When I walk with one of my horses, the horse teaches me how to be mindful in exchange for regular pitstops to sample the tastier-than-in-their-paddock grass along the way.
  • I walk along the edges of the horses’ paddocks, to check the fencing.
  • But mostly, I walk because walking helps me to think.

Ask Aristotle, who insisted that he did his best thinking while walking, if you don’t believe me. Ask Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote, “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Walking improves not only my thinking but also my writing. Just ask walking-writers Rimbaud, Dickens, Woolf, Kant, Hemmingway, Rousseau, Blake, Thoreau, Wordsworth and Jane Austen if it isn’t true.

“Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “my thoughts begin to flow.” Orson Scott Card said that it’s “worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.” According to Charles Dickens, “The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.” Hemmingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, “I would walk along the quays when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something…”

Two Stanford walking researchers, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz* found that students tested showed markedly heightened creative abilities while walking. Walking increased their creative output by an average of 60 per cent. Oppezzo and Schwartz speculate that “future studies would likely determine a complex pathway that extends from the physical act of walking to physiological changes to the cognitive control of imagination.”

As I could not walk while I was getting better after the operation, I had the impression that writing was much more difficult. I got stuck more frequently, and it took longer to get unstuck. I did manage to put the finishing touches to my latest book, Coping with Change – Ten Steps to Successful Stress Management during Transitions and I wrote an 11-page Coping with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist, but it took much longer than it usually does.

You may not be an artist, so why is it useful to you to know that walking increases creativity? It is because creativity is an essential part of practical problem-solving. Author and athlete Christopher Bergland wrote, “Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are buried in the subconscious.” So next time you are struggling to cope with a challenge generated by desired or undesired change, consider going outside for a walk of at least 5 to 15 minutes. That’s the length of time Oppezzo and Schwartz found most useful.

I live close to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim’s route. It is one of my favourite places to walk for inspiration. I am very much looking forward to going there for a walk again! For this very reason, walking the Camino is an integral part of the Walking, Writing and Wine Tasting Workshops I host here in the south of France. We have two 5-day residential spring workshops scheduled this year:

  • 26-30 April 2019 and
  • 20-24th May 2019

You are, of course, very welcome to join us! You can find out more about the benefits of walking and about these workshops here: Walking, Writing and Wine Tasting Workshops in the south of France.


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*J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014 Jul;40(4):1142-52. Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Oppezzo M1, Schwartz DL

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