Walking and Learning

A new study supports my idea that walking and learning are connected. Normally I found it boring to study Chinese flash cards. While walking, I found it pleasant. You could say walking made me more curious. Just standing on the treadmill didn’t have this effect.

The study divided men and women in their 60′s into two groups: (a) walking for 40 minutes/day and (b) stretching. At the end of the study, for persons in the walking group, part of the hippocampus — which is associated with learning — had grown. For persons in the other group, that part of the hippocampus got smaller. Several other parts of the brain, not associated with learning, did not differ between the groups.

3 Responses to “Walking and Learning”

  1. Arlene Says:

    I wonder if growth of the hippocampus also occurs when walking is routine/mandatory–as in getting to a workplace–rather than for fun or even as part of an experiment when one might take a variety of routes.

  2. Anthony Says:

    Seth, in your other post you mention trying flashcards while walking around Tsinghua. Did you try this walking new routes, or walking routes you were familiar with?

    Similarly, have you tried walking routes you were familiar with and that had few people?

  3. Seth Roberts Says:

    Anthony, I walked around routes I was familiar with. Mostly I walked in a nearby park, which was flat and nearly empty of people. This allowed me to pay more attention to the flashcards. A treadmill is far better for this sort of learning because I don’t have to pay attention to anything else. I think I’m the first person to report such an effect — that learning dry facts, usually unpleasant, becomes pleasant while walking. I think the simplicity of the treadmill is why it was clear. My treadmill faces a blank wall. Surely I am not the first person to study while walking. I think ordinary walking is pleasant. I think it is much harder to notice a change from pleasant to more pleasant than a change from unpleasant to pleasant. Because treadmill walking (by itself, facing a blank wall) is slightly unpleasant, it made an increase in pleasantness easier to detect.