Walking — it’s something that most of us take for granted. Yet our ability to walk around here, there and everywhere without bumping into one another while all the time thinking about 101 different things at once, shouldn’t be underestimated. According to neuroscientist Shane O’Mara, walking is holistic: it aids every aspect of our being. “Walking allows us to hold hands, provide physical support to each other or march in protest. Walking is good for the body, good for the brain and good for society at large.” O’Mara goes further: walking, he says, is an “overlooked superpower”. “When we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes.”
As O’Mara’s book, In Praise of Walking, explores, there’s more. As we walk, chemical reactions ignite “a kind of a molecular fertiliser produced within the brain” that “increases resilience to ageing, and damage caused by trauma or infection”. Not only that, walking “lowers our blood pressure, aids the passage of food through our intestines, reduces inflammation and allows us to be creative and better at problem-solving,” says O’Mara. “We also know from studies that people who walk a lot are less prone to depressive disorders; that walking can enhance your memory and that older people who walk more are less lonely,” he says.
When it comes to putting one foot in front of the other, O’Mara doesn’t just talk the talk, he literally walks the walk — up to 14,000 steps a day. To get optimal benefit from walking, he suggests keeping up a consistent speed of more than 5km/h over a period of at least 30 minutes, four or five times a week. O’Mara also recommends we adopt the habit of getting on or off public transport a couple of stops earlier and walking the rest of the journey. And there really is no excuse for us not to walk more, as all you need, says O’Mara, is ”comfy shoes and a rain jacket”.