Several of my friends are writers, and in conversation recently the dreaded “writers’ block” came up. When I asked them to share their best block-busting trick, almost all said it was….. to go for a walk!
So let’s take a look at the benefits of walking for your well-being and for your creativity...
What are the physical benefits of walking?
There are so many benefits that walking can bring you. Walking helps you manage your weight by burning calories, which helps you in maintaining your ideal weight or contributing towards reducing your weight, if that is your goal.
The rate of your weight management will depend on your weight to begin with, the speed you walk, the distance and length of time walking and if you are walking on flat surfaces or varied ground- like hills, uneven surfaces, steps, etc…
Let’s not forget the benefits of walking on your circulatory system, as walking encourages effective blood flow to all parts of your body. Walking at least 20 to 30 minutes a day, five days a week can reduce your risk for coronary heart disease.
Taking a walk after eating helps lower your blood sugar, which can also lower your risk of diabetes.
Walking can also help protect your joints, including your knees and hips. That’s because it helps lubricate the joints and strengthen the muscles that support the joints.
Walking may also reduce your risk for developing a cold or the flu because walking improves your immune system by reducing stress and flooding your body with feel-good chemicals called endorphins - so walking improves your mood too! Walking also increases oxygen flow through the body. It can also generate healthy levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, which are hormones that help to boost your energy levels. Next time you feel tired, instead of drinking strong coffee or high sugar caffeinated energy drinks, just try going for a walk and see your energy levels increase.
What are the mental health benefits of walking?
Apart from having positive impacts on your body, walking also has positive impacts on your mind. Walking helps your mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. Walking makes you feel better, it boosts self-esteem and reduces symptoms of social isolation as you are out and can see other people, even if you don’t interact with them.
Depending on where you walk, you may also see things which you enjoy, such as animals, babies or children, which may also improve your mood. Walking is another way to practice being present, which is also known as mindfulness practice. This simple activity allows you to engage your body and mind. As you walk you observe what is around you - especially if there are new things like a garden that has just been tidied up, the trees in blossom, the smell of fresh cut grass in someone’s garden; all these create new sensations and as a result encourage thoughts that will have a positive effect on you.
You can also try a meditative practice called mindful walking, where you focus on the actual act of walking itself - this is where you take each pace slowly and deliberately, focussing all your attention on the movements you are making and zoning in on how that feels to you. The simple way that you put your foot down, then shift your weight from one leg to the other, and then move forward can be a really interesting exercise. If you are lucky enough to walk on sand or grass, why not take your shoes off, experience the feel of the ground beneath you and really connect with nature. It all sounds so simple but the benefits are significant.
Can walking boost creativity? If so, how does it work?
Walking helps to clear your head and help you think creatively, opening up a free flow of ideas - it’s a simple way to increase creativity and get physical activity at the same time. Creativity flows when you’re in a relaxed state. Your brain does not allow you to be creative in a stressed state. If you’re in a stressed state then you’re in the “flight, fight or freeze” mode so your body prepares for you to take action and run from the perceived danger (e.g. work deadlines etc.). The body answers the stress call by prioritising blood flow to your legs and hands (so that hypothetically you can run or fight).
But this prioritisation moves blood away from the brain and causes us to be less intellectually engaged. So walking is best done in a state of relaxation (or the “rest and digest” mode) - when you’re calm and free of danger then the creative side of you emerges.
When we are relaxed and engaged in an activity, often we can find ourselves in a state of “flow”. This is similar to that utterly absorbed feeling you get when watching a film. “Flow” is a state in which you naturally think creatively and without interference from the usually “chattering” conscious mind. Often when walking you will be absorbed in nature and this can definitely be a bridge to a state of flow, where your creativity can spread its wings.
You might also find that your creativity can be boosted by listening to music as you walk (although if you are crossing roads or negotiating uneven terrain, please be careful!).
How does walking compare to intense exercise? Would that be as effective?
Walking is more effective than intense exercise because you’re not as tired from the exertion. Intense exercise will leave you exhausted and needing to rest and recover. Walking benefits your health just as does intense exercise, but in a gentler way. Also, if you have any injuries or stiffness, gentler exercise like walking will be kinder on your joints, where you can decide what pace works best for you and how long you exercise. Intense exercise generates stress hormones, which is not conducive if you are seeking to focus on your creativity.
How long do you have to be walking in order for creativity to flow?
It’s different for everyone- you’ll slip into it almost unconsciously. One plus point about walking is that you can do it alone or with others, friends, family and even with workmates – perhaps another member of your team who may be working on the same project. You can use the time to keep fit and brainstorm ideas to discuss for an upcoming meeting. A friend of mine has a very successful “walking coaching” business, where she meets her clients for a walk, during which they have a coaching session, which is further evidence of the accepted benefits of walking on creativity.
Are there certain things to look out for on your walk to boost creativity?
Depends where you are and what you can see. If you can be in natural space, like a park, woodland or even a beach, there may be huge varieties of things which may catch your interest. The key things are to be open, alert and interested. By focussing your attention on things that you see, like the gnarled trunk of a tree, the elegant beauty of a late summer rose, the glossy wet pebbles on a beach, you can stimulate your mind to experience things with an intensity that may spark your creative instincts. One thing is certain - creativity can be inspired from anything, and at any time. You just need to be aware, and let it happen! Your state of mind, mood, inspiration and creativity flows just because you’re away from your desk and the office
What happens if you enjoy walking on a treadmill? Will that have the same effect?
Yes and no. Yes in terms of creating movement, no because it’s not a change of environment, with all the opportunities that presents. If you do your walking on a treadmill try to position it in front of a window, and see if you can trick your brain by looking out at nature - look as far as you can see, rather than staring at the wall in your home or at the gym. By expanding your field of view, it expands your imagination and creativity.
Is there anything that could hinder creativity pre-walk? For example, eating high fat, sugary food?
A lot of people take a walk after a large or heavy meal, to “walk it off” and digest. However, this isn’t ideal if you’re looking to be creative and inspired. Blood rushes to the stomach to digest heavy or complex foods, which again takes vital blood flow away from the brain. The brain needs optimum blood flow to function well in creative mode. You can walk before a meal or after a meal, either way you’re benefitting. Walking before a meal allows you to work up an appetite, walking after a meal helps you to burn off some of the calories you have consumed.
Another thing which may impede creativity is not being well hydrated, amazingly just a little bit of dehydration will have a significant effect on your brain’s optimum functioning, so always take a bottle of water with you – or maybe even a flask with a hot drink on a really cold day. Remember the best things to eat before a walk are a light meal, light snacks or a piece of fresh fruit would be an ideal pre-walk fueller. It’s always a good idea to take a snack and some water with you just in case you need a little bit of an energy boost along the way – a piece of fruit is ideal as it can be quickly digested and the energy used.
So, next time you have something to mull over, or some kind of creative block, it’s worth remembering that a walk might just help you find some answers, as well as boosting your potential for creativity.
When was the last time you had “butterflies” in your stomach, or had a “gut feeling” about something or someone?
Far from being an illusion, these responses are real - in fact they are hard-wired into the fundamentals of your nervous system, and what is often termed your “second brain”, the gut.
Having myself been a microbiologist for more than two decades, the importance of a healthy gut has always been a particular interest of mine.
Our gut, which is also sometimes called the intestines or the alimentary canal, stretches from our throat to our anus and measures about nine metres from end to end. The gut is a muscular tube which gently propels food through the body’s processes of digestion, extraction of nutrients and finally, expulsion.
The reason that the gut is often called the “second brain” is because embedded in the walls of the tube that is our gut, there is a vast mesh of around 100 million neurons – more neurons, in fact, than are contained within the spinal cord. This is called the enteric nervous system (enteric means anything to do with the gut). Interestingly, the gut’s neurotransmitters mainly send signals to the brain rather than receiving them.
Together, this extensive network of neurons and neurotransmitters embedded within your gut respond to your feelings and also to the intestinal microbiome (which is our constantly-changing gut bacteria balance which has evolved with us since birth). This highly-complex ecosystem helps us digest and extract nutrients from our food, and also helps us fend off disease-causing bacteria, as well as fighting off viruses.
This entire ecosystem within us, of bacteria and the extensive neural network work together to operate our gut, coordinating their activity – right down to generating the muscle contractions which propel waste through the last part of the gut, and out of the body.
To keep us healthy and well mentally and physically, the enteric nervous system and our intestinal microbiome need to be healthy and plentiful. And this happens when we eat the right balance of foods to support our gut.
There is a rapidly growing weight of evidence to support the idea that your gut’s health strongly influences your mood - which in turn influences your thinking and also impacts your overall wellbeing. The large collection of bacteria within the gut communicates with important neurotransmitters embedded throughout our enteric nervous system. Hence the phrase ‘’that gut feeling’’.
The “gut feeling” or “butterflies” are innate parts of our psychological stress responses. In a stress situation, your gut is as influential to your mood as your brain. In a situation which triggers our “fight, flight or freeze” response, the body prepares to enable the potential to run, and so our gut sends signals to the brain, which consequently releases a flood of chemicals, and our prehistoric response systems still kick in to make us run faster by becoming lighter – I think you see where this is going…
If you grew up in a very clean environment, frequently took antibiotics and ate junk food then you are more likely to have an unhealthy microbiome. Similarly, if you smoke and drink a lot of alcohol then your microbiome will be negatively affected.
Studies indicate that people with unhealthy gut microbiomes are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers etc… It’s also worth knowing that if you have an unhealthy microbiome you are more likely to put on weight.
So it’s really helpful to our mood and wellbeing to be mindful of what you eat, focusing on eating healthy foods that nourish and increase your microbiome (just to remind you, that’s the bacteria in your gut). The best way to do this is by eating healthy food rich in probiotics and prebiotics.
Its important to distinguish between these two types of food, so let’s just look into this for a moment:
Prebiotic foods are foods that our existing good gut bacteria can feast upon and multiply.
Some of the most useful Prebiotic foods include:
Oats, fresh fruits, especially bananas, apples, vegetables and legumes, asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, and artichokes.
Probiotic foods are a fast way of increasing good bacteria by introducing them directly into the gut, allowing us to support a healthy gut ecosystem in which our bacteria can thrive.
Probiotics products most familiar to us include yogurts cultured with a variety of strains of healthy bacteria (but watch out for the ones with additives like sugar). We are all familiar with supplements- capsules or tablets containing good bacteria that are taken on a daily basis, offering a variety of bacterial strains and amounts to suit individual needs. Very popular right now are fermented foods, such as Kefir, Sauerkraut and Sourdough bread, which are all useful sources of probiotics.
Through working together, prebiotic and probiotic foods will keep your “second brain” full of the range and quality of bacteria it needs to function well, to benefit your overall wellbeing.
But isn’t it just about eating a healthier diet, you might say? Well, partly yes, but only partly. It’s important to remember that a lot of the processed foods we eat today are laced with additives, chemicals and preservatives which may actually damage your gut biome, causing us to feel less well and become less healthy.
Further, it has been proven in many scientific surveys that the foods we eat today have significantly smaller percentages of the vitamins and minerals they had in previous decades. This is most often to do with fast land turnaround, use of chemicals in fertilisers and pesticides and a move to ever more intensive farming practices. All of these contribute towards the diminishing value of those foods to our gut. Which is why these days it is recommended that everyone makes intaking both probiotic and prebiotic foods a regular part of your diet.
So I hope that you can see that by taking control of your diet you can help keep your enteric nervous system healthy, enabling you to feel the positive benefits in many ways.
Thanks to everyone around the world who showed up for my live presentation about LOOPING THOUGHTS: How they affect You and How to Break their power over You.
We had great feedback from the audience and I am pleased to say that you can now find the recording of this event on my YouTube channel, so that you can watch whenever it suits you.
I hope you'll make time to watch, and that you'll find it as useful as our live audience did.
Click this link to go to LOOPING THOUGHTS
Hello everyone! I hope that you are managing to enjoy the Summer despite some of the uncertainty we are all coping with right now.
I’m excited to invite you to a free online presentation designed to help deal with the increased levels of anxiety many people are experiencing at present.
On Tuesday 27th July I'm offering a video presentation (on Zoom) about LOOPING THOUGHTS.
Watch to help yourself, or to help support your friends and loved ones - there is so much we can do to help ourselves.
We all have looping thoughts.
Join me at the event to find out:
This is an online (Zoom) presentation I will be giving at 6.00pm UK time on Tuesday 27th July. (If you're in the USA, that’s 10am PT and 1pm ET, and for most of Europe it’s 7pm your time).
Tickets are free but you need to register at www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/online/online/looping-thoughts-how-they-affect-you-and-how-to-break-free-from-them/2021-07-27/18:00/t-apgxng
So all you need to do is click the link and book yourself in!
I do hope you’ll join me.
If you ask people to describe communication in a sentence, they may tell you it’s about what you say when you are speaking. While this is partly true, it’s an incredible fact that only around 10% of our communication is verbal. It’s the other 90%- the non-verbal communication- that can make or break successful communication.
So what do I mean by non-verbal communication?
Nonverbal communication, or NVC, is the application of physical behaviour, expressions, and mannerisms to communicate nonverbally. It’s not WHAT you say, it’s HOW you say things - whether you make eye contact, if it’s too much or too little, your body language, posture and your gestures all add up to powerful statements which can either support- or contradict- the words that you are using. And remember, even when you are not talking, you are still communicating. NVC tells us if someone is being sincere, if they are truthful, if they are listening to us, and if they care.
Now, what makes this relationship of verbal to nonverbal communication particularly interesting is that our minds consist of two distinct parts - 10% which is the conscious and 90% which is the subconscious. This is interesting because the words we speak come from our conscious mind and all the nonverbal behaviour comes from the subconscious. And how telling that the percentages correlate- 10%-verbal/conscious mind and 90%-nonverbal / subconscious mind.
What does this mean to us? Well, often a mismatch between what is said and how the speaker is behaving can highlight a disparity in truth or sincerity. You’ve probably heard of recruiters using body language to “tell” if someone is being truthful in an interview situation, and indeed many clues as to mismatching communication can be observed.
Nonverbal communication comes direct from your subconscious, which is where emotions and feelings live. Therefore, when faced with a mismatch between what is said and the nonverbal communication supporting the words, people often choose the NVC as the most “honest” response.
When NVC matches the verbal communication, then you are in a position to build trust, kinship, understanding and closeness. However, when there is a mismatch, this sows uncertainty, confusion and mistrust.
So let’s look at the key strands of NVC –
Facial expressions - as humans we spend a large proportion of communication time looking at others’ faces, and therefore it is probably the most important area of NVC to be aware of. Expressions are a universal language which effortlessly overcome verbal language barriers – when we think of expressions of fear, happiness, sadness, rage and others we can instantly recognise these. Silent films were played in every part of the world, because there was no language barrier - it was all about what audiences saw. When we recall mime artists, we are reminded that the human face can express countless feelings and emotions, often in very subtle ways. Eye contact also comes into play here, of course.
Eye contact – this is one of the most important as the majority of people are visual learners. There is an optimum balance of eye contact for good NVC- too much and it feels like a staring contest and can make people feel uneasy, too little and you may appear disinterested and disengaged. Eye contact is important to be able to “read” others, too.
Gestures – people have a range of gestures they use, often for emphasis of some sort. It’s important to gauge the way others respond to our gesturing. As well as the difference within cultures, there are huge gestural differences from other cultures, and this should be borne in mind- especially when on holiday or on business trips abroad. You may not mean to cause offence, but take care to ensure you don’t!
Deportment – the way that you carry yourself says a lot – how you walk into a room, how you sit, the way you hold your head, your posture and stance, all affect the impression that you radiate, and influences how others interpret what you say and what you do.
Physical space – it’s not just how someone stands, it’s where – are they too close, invading your personal space, or are they too far away, perhaps causing you to have to raise your voice or move towards them?
Physical contact - touch can be a very powerful NVC. It can suggest or emphasise a connection (a hug), support or affection (holding someone’s hand), aggression (pushing with force), warmth (a pat on the back) or lack of impact (a weak handshake). Cultural differences must again be brought into consideration here, especially when dealing with other genders than your own. People may prefer not to engage in Physical communication which involves touch as it may be against their religious beliefs and it is important to be aware and respectful of this. If in doubt, ask!
Sounds - this is not what you say, but how you say it. There are a number of strands to our understanding others- including how they say things – forcefully, loudly, softly, with emphasis on certain words, their intonation, together with the many different sounds and noises that we instinctively make during communication - by that I mean the “mm”-s and “uh-huh”-s and “ah”-s that infer some kind of understanding, agreement or questioning.
We must always remember the power of our communication - it can bring people closer to you, make people feel at ease and respected, or it can make others feel confused, hurt, alienated or upset. Much of communication is about interpretation, which you cannot often control. However, by learning to be in control of your own communication you can convey the correct message in the most effective way - and in doing so, better encourage the responses you wish to see from others.
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2022 Juan Carlos Gouveia, All Rights Reserved.
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