Why Walking Can Help Boost Your Creativity And Your Health

Poets from Brendan Kennelly to Patrick Kavanagh and creative artists from Colm Toibin to Christy Moore have all found walking beneficial for their crafts. By Frank Greally

by Gazette Reporter
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Walking alone and with purpose makes you feel alive and positive. With no one else to consider, you can test your personal best time over a favourite route, walking  at speed to your own rhythm.

Many people find that walking alone is conducive to creative thinking . During the years when he lectured at Trinity College, the poet Brendan Kennelly loved to walk for several hours a little after dawn on Sunday mornings,, through the deserted streets of Dublin city.

Brendan’s friend, fellow poet Patrick Kavanagh, famously walked from his home in Inniskeen in county Monaghan to Dublin- a journey of 60 miles – to meet the writer and philosopher A.E Russell.

Brendan Kennelly experienced peace and solitude walking those deserted Dublin streets and he found that his solitary walks sparked great creativity. Brendan’s poem – Clearing A Space- reads like a walker’s prayer. A few lines are worth sharing.

A man should clear a space for himself

Like Dublin city on Sunday morning

About six o’clock

Dublin and myself are rid of traffic then

And I’m walking

Another famous Kerry writer, John B Keane, also found inspiration on his walks along the Feale River near his home in Listowel. He wrote: “Beautiful Listowel, serenaded night and day by the gentle waters of the silvery River Feale.”

The Listowel Literary Walk (4km) is an easy ramble around the town of Listowel Town Park.

The novelist Colm Toibín walked along the border from Derry to Newry soon after the Anglo Irish Agreement was signed and later wrote a fine book , A Walk Along The Border, charting his experience. Back in 1986, Tobín was a young man with journalistic ambitions rather than the acclaimed novelist we know today.

The singer/songwriter Christy Moore has for many years been a regular walker and another great singer/songwriter, Johnny Duhan, who wrote- The Voyage, goes for a daily walk at 7am in Barna Woods in Galway- having already been engaged in a few hours of writing after he rises at 4.30am.

Back in 1851, Henry David Thoreau, the American naturalist, essayist, poet and philosopher, delivered a lecture on walking at the Concord Lyceum in Massachusetts. He observed: “I think I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least- and it is commonly more than that-sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all wordly engagements.”

Similarly, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote in an 1847 letter to his niece: “Above all, do not lose the desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

William Wordsworth, the poet with the perfectly fitting name, walked nearly 175,000 miles in his lifetime while maintaining a prolific writing career. Wordsworth found that walking and poetry were both rhythmic. Both employed meter and so he needed to walk in order to write.

The composer Ludwig Van Beethoven typically worked from sun-up through mid-afternoon, taking several breaks to go out into the open and work while walking. One biographer described these short walks as ” a bee swarming out to collect honey.” 

After a large midday meal, Beethoven would take a longer, more vigorous walk lasting the rest of the afternoon. These walks happened regardless of the weather, for they were important to his creativity. He would carry a pen and paper in case inspiration struck, which it often did.

A line from Kate Chopin’s novel – The Awakening- is also worth quoting: ” I feel sorry for women who don’t like to walk: they miss so much- so many rare glimpses of life.”

Although these writers and composers quoted were relying on anecdotal evidence to praise the benefits of walking , scientific studies have since proven that their claims were correct.

So, if you want to get the creative juices flowing, a walk in a scenic area can be highly recommended. You may not, like Thoreau, be able to find a free four hours or more to walk each day, but a regular daily walk of any distance will be enough to keep your thinking fresh and your body supple. It’s a good idea to bring pen and paper or a voice recorder with you on your walks so you can record flashes of inspiration.

A Few Tips

Getting Into The Habit

The first three weeks of any new exercise plan are the most important. If you can get out walking three days a week for the next three weeks (that’s only 9 sessions) you have about an 80% chance of continuing walking for six months and beyond. Once you have been walking regularly for six months, there is a very strong chance that you will continue to make walking part of your day, every day.

Keep Track Of Your Progress

It’s a good idea to keep track of your walking progress by either written or electronic means. Writing in a diary/journal after each walk can become an enjoyable and stimulating experience. Chart how you felt mentally and physically on your walk- the weather and any observations you may have made or thoughts had on your walk. It’s lovely to look back in a few months and see the progress you have made.

After the Walk

After a walk, you will usually feel better mentally and physically- especially on a day when you have had to push yourself out the door to get walking.

A walk of 20 minutes or more almost always improves the way you feel about yourself and the world. The renewed energy your feel is like a tonic and its free.

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