In Praise of Walking | Shane O’Mara

Summary of: In Praise of Walking: The new science of how we walk and why it’s good for us
By: Shane O’Mara


Dive into the captivating world of walking as we explore ‘In Praise of Walking: The new science of how we walk and why it’s good for us’ by Shane O’Mara. This book enlightens us on the fascinating evolution of human walking, the mechanics behind it, and how our brains play a crucial role. Alongside this, we’ll unravel the importance of walking in our daily lives, its impact on our sense of direction, and how it can remarkably boost creativity. Lastly, we’ll delve into why it’s essential to have walkable cities and how walking can bring about marvellous social experiences.

The Sea Squirt and the Evolution of Human Walking

The sea squirt sheds light on the importance of movement and brain power. While humans may seem far from sea squirts, research shows genes related to walking stretch back to our underwater ancestors. Walking on two legs is unique to humans and requires complex brain power for balance. Although the spinal cord handles rhythm patterns for walking, it’s a vital piece humans keep to move efficiently.

Navigating without a Map

Our innate ability to move in the right direction towards a destination, dead reckoning, has intrigued scientists for years. Researchers are slowly working out the mechanics of how our sense of direction works, beyond just visual cues. Neuroscientist John O’Keefe discovered place cells—cells around the brain’s hippocampus—how the brain determines where we are. Head-direction cells act as an inner compass, and perimeter cells respond to nearby boundaries, mapping out the surroundings.

The Importance of Walkable Cities

In a busy urban world, it’s more vital than ever to have calming moments like the Italian passeggiata. Unfortunately, our cities don’t make it easy for us. Over half of the world’s population lives in cities with little priority given to walking. However, it’s crucial that our cities have a walkable atmosphere with amenities, safe and comfortable walking areas, green spaces, and special accommodations for the elderly. The advantages of walkable cities are immense, including increased economic activity and productivity. The author encourages cities to utilize the EASE acronym to make their areas comfortable for everyone, and suggests psychologists and neuroscientists have more control over urban planning for their expertise in creating walkable spaces.

Walking: The Best Medicine

Have you ever noticed feeling grumpier after long periods of being inactive? Research indicates that less physical activity leads to lower levels of extraversion, openness, and agreeableness. However, the solution is simple: walking. Walking outdoors has been proven to promote feelings of well-being, reduce depression, and stimulate brain function and muscle growth. Whether you want to increase your memory, stimulate your muscles, or boost your mood, the key is to go for an outdoor walk.

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