New Walking-Catalyzes-Learning Results

Two years ago, I discovered that if I walked on a treadmill while studying Chinese flash cards, it became much easier. Without walking, I could barely study 10 minutes without getting exhausted and stopping. If I walked at the same time, however, I could study much longer — say, 60 minutes. Huge difference. Walking on a treadmill made studying Chinese pleasant. This was stunning because walking on a treadmill by itself was boring and studying Chinese (or any other dry knowledge) is supposed to be boring. I concluded that walking created a thirst for dry knowledge, which studying Chinese satisfied. My evolutionary explanation was that this linkage evolved to push us to explore our surroundings. My posts about this.

In an April 2012 QS talk, Jeremy Howard reported the same thing.

I discovered that if I am walking on a treadmill at 1.2 miles per hour at a 1 degree incline I have an error rate of about 5%. Whereas if I don’t [walk on a treadmill] it’s about 8%. I also know that I can do that for an hour. Whereas normally if I’m just sitting down I can just do it 20 minutes. . . . And at the end of that hour I was ready to do something else. Whereas at the end of 20 minutes, normally I’d [audience member: "Take a nap"] Yeah, I’d be totally ready for a rest . . I also discovered I was 40% faster [at learning].

He added, “I love my Chinese every day.” More recently, someone named Adam posted on the QS forums that he’d had a similar experience:

As Jeremy Howard mentioned in his talk, SRSing (is that a word?) is exhausting. Like him, after a period of about 20 minutes, I often reach a level of fatigue that makes it difficult to continue studying. I first read about the “treadmill method” on Seth Roberts’s blog & found it highly effective. Like Mr. Howard, I could study for hours without become bored . . . The only problem here is that I don’t have easy access to a treadmill. My gym is quite far & it is impractical to go there every day, while I desire to SRS every day.

That two other people noticed such a big effect is good reason to think that it will be true for most people.

10 Responses to “New Walking-Catalyzes-Learning Results”

  1. dearieme Says:

    When I was a fresher I was asked to leave a library because my habit of walking around was distracting other readers. My habit was to sit and read for some minutes and then stride about, running the stuff through my mind, looking at it this way and that. Sometimes I’d carry some notes to look at. It worked.

  2. Allen K. Says:

    For the last couple of years, I’ve napped 1/2 hour almost every day, but pretty much stopped once I started my treadmill desk ($50 treadmill off craigslist). Having a standing desk wasn’t enough.

  3. Adam Says:

    @Seth: That Adam is me!

    We actually met a while back when you came to Shanghai for a visit. I’m the Anki/SRS obsessed gentleman who was present at the Korean BBQ.

    @Allen K.: I suppose I could study flashcards on my cellphone while walking on nearly any kind of treadmill, but I’m curious what kind you bought. Did you modify it yourself to turn it into a treadmill desk? Does that mean that you use your laptop on it? If you could share some of your methods and/or pictures, I’d really appreciate it.

  4. Chuck Says:

    I like to listen to podcasts while I walk, usually with my dog, and easily walk for an hour, or more, while listening. However, if I try to listen to a podcast while sitting, I go about ten minutes, then realize I can’t remember a thing the person(s) said, and give up. Not that I can remember everything said in an hour long podcast, but I think if I listened to it daily over a period of time, like studying the same flashcards over and over again, I could remember the whole thing. Or, I could become bored with the parts I do remember and subconsciously stop listening.

    Video casts are not as hard to get through, and I think it’s because what you see on the video usually changes from moment to moment – kind of like flash cards – and there’s more of a visual interaction. Probably the influence of television – audio/visual/sedentary conditioning. Ha!

    Talk radio is another medium I cannot listen to unless I’m driving or walking.

    I find it all very interesting.

    Seth: Very interesting. Would online education be better if it were designed to be consumed while walking, instead of looking at a screen?

  5. Bryan Says:

    When I memorizing stuff for the California bar exam, most of the time I was on my feet. I’d either pace around the room reading my notes aloud or walk around campus reading my notecards to myself.

    Seth: yes, I will change the title of this post. It’s obviously walking, not necessarily treadmill walking.

  6. Joanna Says:

    But treadmill walking and reading is safer than regular walking if you’re looking down at written material – kind of like walking and texting, which is not really very safe. Regular walking outdoors would certainly work for podcasts – I will have to try that one. And merely glancing at notes while pacing around indoors wouldn’t seem to be too dangerous. Other than that I think I would stick with treadmills.

    Seth: Yes, I quickly stopped walking around my neighborhood studying flashcards — it was too tricky.

  7. Matt Says:

    I find that I can easily retain information that I hear during a podcast while I’m walking OR driving, but if I’m sitting I do not retain nearly as much. Perhaps it is the motion rather than the walking, specifically.

  8. Adam Says:

    Bryan’s comment reminded me, I used the “Walking Effect” when studying for my licensing exam as well. That was before I had a smartphone or knew what Anki was. I made hundreds of paper flashcards with brand and generic drug names on them, then walked for hours around the track at a local high school. The track works pretty well as long as it isn’t too crowded.

  9. Alex Berg Says:

    Anat Baniel also believes moment improves learning and thinking. She has some interesting ideas, and her movement exercises has been a revelation for me regarding headaches due to desk work

  10. Derek Ramsey Says:

    To quote “http://autism.com/pdf/families/adviceforparents.pdf”:

    “There are several ways to help autistic children learn to talk, including…..Vestibular stimulation, such as swinging on a swing, while teaching speech”