As EverWalk co-founder Diana Nyad writes, “ There are stories throughout history of artists and writers and thinkers who walked daily, who walked long distances, not really for health or for athletic purposes, but to let their creative minds brew and bubble. Virginia Woolf would take to the streets of London all day long, stopping for a visit with her sister, her pen and notebook in hand, rather than sit still at home, hoping for a muse to spark ideas.
“When I’m writing or working on a long-term project, I walk to get my head organized. I find myself occasionally almost running to the computer when I arrive home. The chapter that was stumping me has become clear during my long walk.”
Indeed, throughout history, walks have prompted ideas, inventions, revelations that have changed our world. Why? Because walking has a specific effect on the human brain — a chemical combo is unleashed that allows us to think more deeply and creatively: a protein called BDNF that nourishes and energizes our neurons, and hormones known as endorphins that produce a sense of calm and well-being.
In fact, a 2014 Stanford study found that walking increased a person’s “creative output” by an average of 60 percent.
Certainly Steve Jobs felt this way — holding many of his meetings while walking. More and more company leaders are taking this approach — having walk and talks instead of sitting around a conference table.
Sound crazy? Well, perhaps this list of people who changed the world with their ideas — which surfaced while walking — will convince you of the connection between walking and ideation.
- Nikola Tesla’s ideas about electricity came to him during a walk in a Budapest park in 1882.
- James Watt conjured up the steam engine that brought us the Industrial Revolution while going “for a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon. I was thinking upon the engine at the time and had gone as far as the Herd’s house when the idea came into my mind.”
- Ludwig van Beethoven never missed his afternoon walk, during which he always carried pen and paper to record the music that came to his mind.
- Charles Dickens’ lifelong insomnia sent him out into the streets of London where real life brought Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and more to the page.
- Philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche (who said “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,”), Wolfgang von Goethe, and Soren Kierkegaard all believed walking essential to the life of the body and the mind.
- Werner Heisenberg discovered the foundations of quantum physics after traveling alone to a remote archipelago on the North Sea and doing nothing but taking daily walks and going for long swims.
- Scientists Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin both untangled their game-changing theories while taking daily walks.
Military strategist Carl von Clausewitz declared: “What matters most is not what we have thought, but how we have thought it. I have found on my walks that most of my insights were acts of synthesis rather than analysis—perceiving patterns and finding meaning in the relationship between things.”
In addition to discoveries made inside people’s minds while walking, walking itself has led to a variety of inventions and discoveries such as quinine, found in the bark of the cinchona tree. This anti-malarial compound was first used by native Andean peoples who shared their knowledge with Jesuit missionaries in South America around 1600 to treat malaria. It was discovered by a feverish Andean man, lost in the jungle. Suffering from malaria, he drank from a pool of water at the base of a cinchona tree. Although bitter to the taste, his fever lifted and he survived to pass on what he had learned.
More recently, in the 1940s a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral made an interesting discovery while walking his dog. When they returned home he decided to examine the burdock seeds that had stuck to his clothes. He noticed they had lots of tiny hooks that easily attached and stuck firmly to fabric and fur. de Mestral realized he could create a new fastening system using the concept, and “Velcro” was brought into existence.
There are countless more examples of the ideation and creativity that walking brings. The world could use our help in addressing so many global issues! So get out there and walk EverWalk Nation — and see what ideas you can bring to heal our planet!!