I would have guessed that walking helps us think because it gets us to a position where our problem isn't directly in front of us, nor are our distractions. But I was really hoping to instead get some science about that sort of thing. I mean, I guess it's cool to know that there are some mental tests which some people are slightly worse at when walking, and the Nabokov quote at the beginning was quite interesting even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the article, but I'm just left... unsatisfied.
"The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa"
"Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander"
"Where we walk matters as well."
The validity of those claims might be up for debate too, but the article in no way claims that it is "simply" increased heart rate. The answer only "begins with changes to our chemistry".
But my point was more, "I was hoping for some science," really.
It could boil down to an instinctive awareness that I'm not in a place I know is absolutely safe, so I have to be ready to accept and react to external stimuli at any moment, even if I'm not currently feeling threatened; and creative thought, in this case, hijacks the "external" tag.
But yeah, science would be nice too.
Basically movement, especially aerobic (walk, run, etc.) but also complex movement (sports, music playing , martial arts) as explained in the book
1 causes neurogenesis (release of brain stem cells )
2 increases the size of your hippocampus and and improves memory
3 creates new brain circuits for the movement but these circuits are able to be recruited by different tasks
4 increases the production and balance of neurotransmitters and other hormones
5 increases and regulates executive function
And a lot more complex processes in the brain. This occurs immediately but increases with more exercise . It's interesting stuff and ratey explains well.
I originally suspected walking has more to do with psychology, specifically paradoxic intention, than it does with physiology. That being easily distracted allows your mind to drift, whereas aiming to solve a problem keeps your mind stuck in the same unfruitful paths of thought. It's great that there is some science behind it.
Basically, if you are well adapted to running and it does not take a lot of mental effort to run, you aren't really draining your "bucket" of mental energy for the day very much, so you get the positive effects. However, if you go into a place where the training takes a high degree of concentration (say, running easy, but a lot), or by running very hard, this is a heavy cognitive load task that requires much concentration due to the pain, etc.
So, basically, its the same as walking for a lot of people. As long as you are in a reasonably comfortable zone where you can think, it works well.
I thought the journal articles linked to do a good job of substantiating the author's claims.
There is no mention of how many uses either group thought of, so that number creates the impression of meaning while actually being completely meaningless. Was the average number 5? Then doubling it is probably meaningful. Was the average number 25? Then it's barely a one sigma effect.
It's also worth asking how representative the various tasks mentioned are. I have never personally been faced with a problem where thinking of many novel uses for an every-day object has come up, and I can't offhand think of any real-world creative task that such an exercise maps to (although maybe if I go for a walk one will come to me...)
Likewise, finding a word that unites a group of terms is something I've never done, even though I'm a published poet.
There's nothing in the article that suggests walking is particularly special, either. Canoeing and sailing are also things I find helpful for thinking. I can speculate as to why (something about engaging the body and mind in a way that is just distracting enough to free the mind and let it see alternative paths forward?) but on the other hand, my cat often wakes me up a bit before I'm quiet ready to get out of bed, and that ten or fifteen minutes of lying in bed not quite awake are also very productive, mentally.
Talking to people about such things, or even reading the comments here, these are not rare phenomena. So studies of this kind should not confine themselves to walking/not-walking but look at a wider range of activities and ideas.
As the article states, it's not very good at helping you solve a particular logic problem though.
Edited to add: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1995-09-09/
Since walking involves alternate motion of opposite sides of the body, and was part of the activity someone was doing when EMDR was discovered.
Some think that alternately engaging the two sides of the brain causes an increased activity in the corpus callosum, or something along those lines.
As a keen cyclist I find the opposite I do my clearest thinking on a bike not while walking (with the proviso I'm on a quiet road).
If I get really stuck on a problem I'll whip out for a quick 15 mile bike ride then if I solve it great and if not at least I feel more relaxed when I get back.
throw in a good heartbeat app and I can push myself to 120+ beats for a good burst of morning and afternoon energy.
The brain doesn't seem to work well in a vacuum, so if you spend all day staring at the same four walls, it might let you focus, but there's not a lot of entropy coming in to make you think in different ways.
There's an arboretum here in town but it's a drive to get there. I wish I lived next door to a forest.
Meanwhile I make do with an adjustable stool that's sorta OK at a desk height greater than usual office furniture. I don't sit too long, getting up to stand or move around pretty often.
Not sure how much this has to do with problem solving vs. dealing with malformed bones and warped body structure. Maybe it just shows seeking comfort is overrated.
Though I do like to walk and enjoy the scenery, the hectic crowds, or especially the wonderful companionship of my wife. If inspiration strikes, I'll try to hang on to it, though I rarely do. Amazing how often the idea recurs when I can at last recapture it.
Makes sense. For some tasks standing all day at one spot would be too tiring. This furniture is not cheap, obviously designed and sold for serious purposes. There is a market, so I imagine there's reason for it.
That sounds like an awesome challenge for a Japanese game show - soapy shower treadmill walk...