The Surprising Thing You Can do Every Day For a Healthy Imagination
“To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to shew an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.” Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice
One foot in front of the other. It's simple as simple comes; a daily routine that is so elemental in our lifestyles that we often take it for granted that we are blessed with the ability to move our legs and carry our bodies into new spaces at will. The freedom of movement has always held a bit of magic to me, as it has with writers, painters, and literary figures for ages.
I always admired the gumption of Jane Austen's most famous heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. In Rebecco Solnit's book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, she explains that Elizabeth's solitary walks express independence and the courage to enter a vast, often lonely world, where she is free to think.
Walking is commonly known as the lowest impact/highest return form of exercise, but what about how it effects our minds?
When I lived in New York I walked on average 4 miles a day out of necessity. On the days that I managed to keep my phone securely in my pocket (still working on that), my mind was alert both to my surroundings and to my soul. I'd find myself jumping around from to-do lists, to enjoying the color of the trees blooming, to praying, to daydreaming about the places I'd go, people I'd meet, and things I'd accomplish in my lifetime. Often by the time I got to work I felt less stressed, full of ideas, and more at peace than I did twenty minutes prior, gulping down the last sip of coffee and running out the door.
It turns out that when we get older, the ability to daydream begins to dissipate when we focus on external objects and activities without taking the time to get lost in our thoughts or wander, if you will. Aside from the fact that we are responsible, mature, and very important, there is a reason that children dream, imagine, and get lost in "la-la-land" more often than adults. The more they work those muscles, the stronger they become. When we stop, our strength to daydream also weakens.
Now for a little bit of science to back me up. The part of our brain that is associated with imagination or passive thoughts is called default mode network (DMN) and its loss of coordination is often a symptom of aging and Alzheimer's disease. But it's not only good for getting lost in a lovely daydream, DMN is also related to a higher ability to retain memory, plan, prioritize, and strategize.
And guess what helps keep DMN in-tact? Yep, walking.
Even now in Austin, Matty and I found a lovely community that is within walking distance to 3 grocery stores, our gym, a thrift store, and (most importantly) Target. We take late walks in the summertime to pick up a sack of groceries and I think we'll always value the ability to move without a vehicle.
I often walk alone simply because I enjoy the small miracle that it is - a stretch of time, a willingness to slow down, an opportunity to wake up my mind and see what wonderful things come to be with a little bit of imagination.
Here are a few ideas to incorporate walking into your lifestyle this week:
- Go for a walk on your lunch break.
- Determine the closest, safe, and walkable place from your home - go there!
- Take a 30 minute evening walk with a friend. (It was on a walk such as this that help me determine the name of this blog!)
- Wake up early and lace up before everyone else. Set intentions for the day and let your thoughts drift as they may.