“Research shows that walking facilitates you to feel better even when you expect the opposite.” So said Professor Shane O’Mara at a talk in Gorey recently to promote his new book, In Praise of Walking. And his book goes on to explain that and much more.

Walking, he says, confers a great many benefits for the body and mind. It helps to protect and repair organs that have been subject to stresses and strains. It is good for the gut, helping the passage of food through the intestines. Regular walking also acts as a brake on the aging of our brains. And it can, in an important sense, reverse the aging of our brains. Walking is also associated with improved creativity, improved mood, and the general sharpening of our thinking.

10,000 steps

As someone who abides by the 10,000 steps a day rule, it was interesting to see other averages. According to O’Mara, in Japan, the average person walks 5000 steps. It’s 4000 steps in North America and 3500 in Saudi Arabia.

And, yes, there’s research to show that when a group went for a walk before doing an activity. In this instance, they came up with twice as many ideas after walking, compared to those who didn’t. So, yes, if you have to solve a problem, go for a walk and let your mind do the rest.

shane o'mara author in praise of walking
Professor Shane O’Mara, neuroscientist and author of In Praise of Walking.

Urban walking

Interestingly, he made the point that most walking happens in urban areas. Because most of the world’s population lives in urban areas. So, it’s really important that cities become more walkable. However, in a lot of cities, walking is not taken into consideration when planning. Pedestrians are often ignored to facilitate cars. He used the EASE anagram – towns and cities should be easy to walk, accessible to all, safe for everyone, and enjoyable for everyone.

Walking in groups

walking in groups, social walking

And, finally, he’s a big advocate of social walking. And yes, there’s research to show that walking in small groups helps people to get over the ‘Will I bother’ inertia. That’s the inertia that often stops us heading out for a walk. It’s totally normal, by the way, but you still have to get past it to get those steps in!

And, so, the book is an argument in favour of walking, particularly as lives have become more sedentary. We must start walking again, says O’Mara, whether it’s up a mountain, down to the park, or simply to school and work. We, and our societies, will be better for it.

In Praise of Walking is available in hardback, paperback and Audible versions. You can get it via: Amazon.com, Amazon.uk, PenguinRandomHouse, Audible