2 Reasons To Give 'Silent Walking' A Try
Research suggests that the deliberate act of walking in silence is a meditative exercise that fosters a heightened connection to the present moment.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | November 11, 2023
The health benefits of walking are well-documented and vast, ranging from strengthening the heart, improving blood circulation and enhancing overall physical endurance to boosting mood and mental acuity.
While walking with headphones has become a norm for many, a new trend known as silent walking is emerging. The idea is to go for a walk alone and unplug from technology while simultaneously immersing yourself in your physical environment. This tweak to your walking routine is touted to have several mental health benefits by those who advocate for it.
But the question remains: Is there any science to this? By adding the element of silence to the already beneficial activity of walking, how much more are we really benefiting? Here are two reasons why you might consider making your next walk a silent one.
1. Silence May Help In Brain Growth
A 2013 study published in Brain Structure and Function involving mice found that silence can be a proactive catalyst for neurogenesis—the creation of new brain cells.
When rodents were exposed to different auditory environments, the researchers noticed that silent environments led to an increase in the generation of precursor cells, which are essential for neurogenesis. These cells matured into new neurons over time, specifically after seven days of experiencing silence. This was not the case with other auditory stimuli like white noise or even Mozart’s piano music, which initially seemed to have a positive effect but didn’t result in the same sustained growth of neurons.
While it’s crucial to remember that human brains are considerably more complex than those of mice, this research provides a hopeful glimmer into how our brains might react to silence. The act of silent walking may be combining the mental acuity benefits of walking with the neurological benefits of silence to turn into an all-around workout for the brain.
So, while you can go for a silent walk anywhere by leaving your phone behind, choosing a calm and quiet area is probably the way to go if you want to maximize the brain-boosting benefits of silent walking. Which brings us to:
2. You May Find Yourself Around Nature More Often, Which Can Boost Well-Being
Frequent silent walkers often seek out serene environments, steering clear of bustling streets and crowded parks for a peaceful commune with nature. This offers excellent mental health benefits.
A 2022 study featured in Science, which synthesized data from over 300 research efforts spanning 61 nations, indicates that interacting with nature enriches our lives in more than 200 non-material ways. These benefits were distilled into 16 distinctive connections through which individuals reap nature’s intangible rewards.
Among these, some notable types of connections include:
- Cohesiveness, which fosters stronger community ties through shared natural experiences
- Intuition, which enhances our innate and sensory experiences, often with spiritual or religious significance
- Satisfaction, which contributes to our sense of contentment and overall life fulfillment
- Transformation, which facilitates shifts in mood and perspective, influencing our attitudes and actions
Beyond the mental acuity benefits of walking, being in nature also tends to have specific brain-power-boosting consequences. Research published in 2019 in Current Directions in Psychological Science discovered distinct improvements in cognitive functioning among individuals who spent time in natural settings, as opposed to urban ones. Time in nature was associated with advancements in cognitive flexibility, working memory and attentiveness, while urban settings corresponded with a diminished span of attention.
Silent walking has a solid scientific foundation, offering significant benefits beyond immediate tranquility. Silence, especially when combined with nature and exercise, can help promote mental health. By integrating silent walks into our routines, we could be taking a proactive step toward a mentally sharper and more carefree lifestyle.