Stories tagged exercise


Charles Darwin's Thinking Path: The naturalist spent much time here formulating his revolutionary ideas.
Charles Darwin's Thinking Path: The naturalist spent much time here formulating his revolutionary ideas.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that all "truly great thoughts" were conceived while taking them. Paleontologist Robert Bakker admitted that scientists needed them. Which is why Charles Darwin took them in the privacy of his own backyard. And scientists weren't the only ones who took them. Vincent van Gogh loved to take them when he wasn't painting wildly frenetic scenes on canvas, and composer Ludwig von Beethoven took them all the time - sometimes in his underwear!

What, you may ask, were they taking? Drugs? Magic elixirs? Naps?

Nope. None of these. They were all taking walks.

Through the centuries some of the world's greatest ideas came about during the physical act of taking a walk. Charles Darwin even had a special path called Sandwalk constructed adjacent to his Down House property and lined it with stones. It's where he mulled over his hypotheses about natural selection and evolution as he formulated his landmark book, On the Origin of Species. Many of Beethoven's symphonies (e.g The Pastoral Symphony) were inspired by a hike through the woods. Author Henry David Thoreau wrote an entire essay on the subject, particularly walking in the wild.

And now a new study done at Stanford University confirms the anecdotal notion that walking increases your chances of having... well, a notion - an idea or epiphany or some sort of creative breakthrough. According to the Stanford researchers, It didn't matter whether the participants were walking outdoors or inside on a treadmill - it seems the act of waking itself elevated levels of creativity. The effect lasted several minutes after participants stopped walking.

Nearly 180 participants were tested using different combinations of sitting and walking. Subjects were moved around in wheelchairs during the outside sitting segments.

These sessions were followed by four experiments used to test levels creativity, each lasting 5 to 16 minutes depending on the task. Across all tests, the majority of subjects did surprisingly better after walking than sitting. On average, participants who had walked showed a 60 percent improvement over those sitting.

Whether it's specifically the act of walking that raises creativity or if any kind of exercise would produce the same results is the subject for future studies, and could even diminish one of my favorite quotes from humorist Mark Twain: "Golf is a good walk spoiled."

The current study was co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and professor Daniel Schwartz, of Stanford Graduate School of Education, and appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

Stanford news story
APA press release


National Walk to Work Day: A chance to dust off those walking shoes and save gas!
National Walk to Work Day: A chance to dust off those walking shoes and save gas!Courtesy Pedestrian Council of Australia: ABC Marketing
For some of us, it's been a while since those walking shoes have seen the light of day. So get them out, dust them off, and lace them up because tomorrow is National Walk to Work Day!

This has been a national holiday since 2004 when the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson declared the first National Walk to Work Day. The idea behind the day was to draw attention to our need to get out and get in shape. But with today's ever-flucuating gas prices and difficult economy, we can find new reasons to celebrate the health concious holiday. We can choose to walk to work to help our waistlines and our wallets!

However if you're like me and live a sizeable distance from your workplace, check out these compromises:

  • Take a bus with a stop a bit farther away from your house/apartment or work
  • Take the bus to work then walk home
  • Take a walk during lunch
  • Take a 30-60 minute walk later in the day or this weekend
  • Ditch the elevator and take the stairs for the day

So whatever the reason, spend at least 30 minutes walking tomorrow!


Feels so good: Many of these Marines taking part in a recent marathon in Washington, D.C., likely felt the effects of a runner's high during or after their effort.Courtesy Monica Darby
Don’t you just hate those perky people who come back from a long run or a hard workout and tell you how great they feel? Well, they’re probably not pulling the con job that I always thought was the case. Science has now proven that theoretical runner’s high actually exists.

Ever since the running/jogging craze kicked into high gear in the 1970s, zealots of the craze have extolled the virtues of the runner’s high they experienced. Those in the scientific world figured there might be something to it, that the act of intense working out could produce endorphins in the body that could elevate a person’s feeling of pleasure. But they had now way of measuring that.

Thanks to research being done by scientists in Germany, ways of tracking those endorphins have now been discovered. Researchers at the University of Bonn, who had been studying pain in the body, realized that their same methods could be used to measure the runner’s high. Results of the studied were reported in a story in the New York Times last week.

Here’s how it worked. The researchers conducted PET scans of runners’ brains before and after two-hour runs. The runners knew they were part of a study, but were not told they were being gauged for the effects of runner’s high. Along with the scans, the runners also filled out questionnaires following each run to measure their current mood.

The scans found that indeed more endorphins were being released in the runners’ bodies during their workouts. In fact, they were attaching themselves in the same portion of the brain that are active in emotional reactions like romance or emotion. Runners whose tests showed that they were in the best moods following their runs also showed more endorphins going to their brains.

Not all runners get the experience to the same degree and researchers want to find out why, and possibly how low-endorphin runners can increase their endorphin production.

The Germans are also now moving into a new phase of their study, to see if the endorphin release in physical activity can have an impact on pain felt by the athletes. They have heard stories of people running on broken legs or while suffering a heart attack and not being hampered in their workout. They want to see if there’s science to back up those stories.

BTW: I just want to go on record here and now to volunteer as a participant in any future studies that measure endorphin production while eating chocolate or pizza.

Under the heading “Science Confirms the Obvious,” a new study shows that even moderate amounts of exercise, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, improves your health. No shocker there. The interesting thing, though, is that not only does being active make you healthy, but the reverse is also true – being inactive will actually make you unhealthy. This hadn’t been proven before.


Get a kick: Is soccer better exercise compared to jogging? That's the question posed by Danish researchers in a recent study. (Flickr photo by probek)
Get a kick: Is soccer better exercise compared to jogging? That's the question posed by Danish researchers in a recent study. (Flickr photo by probek)
I know at least one regular Science Buzz contributor will be ecstatic over this latest bit of health news. So who showed the most personal health improvement when you compare soccer players to joggers to couch potatoes?

That was the question posed by Danish researchers who conducted a 12-week study of 37 men with similar health profiles going into the study. One third of the men played soccer for recreation over the course of the study, one third jogged and one third (the group I’d have liked to have been in) were couch potatoes.

After 12 weeks, here’s what they found out: Soccer players showed the most personal health improvement. Their body fat percentage went down 3.7% while their muscle mass increased 4.5 pounds. Joggers' fat percentage went down 2 percent and their muscle mass did not change significantly. Obviously, the couch potatoes health benchmarks got worse.

And through questions posed to the participants, researchers learned that soccer players felt less tired than the joggers after exercising as they were having more fun participating in that activity.

A lot of that makes a lot of common sense, but there is actually more science at play. The head of the study said soccer is a great exercise to improve health because soccer players get a better workout made up of intense bursts of activity. During those bursts, their hearts were pumping at up to 90 percent efficiency, a level that the joggers never came close to approaching.

Of course, us couch potatoes get a great workout for our fingers on the remote control. Talk about burst of energy, there’s nothing that moves my fingers faster than five or six bad channels in a row!

So what do you think? Is soccer better exercise than jogging? Is there another form of physical activity that’s even better? What’s the best workout? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

And you can also weigh in with your thoughts about soccer on another Science Buzz section…is soccer the most exciting sport to watch? Check it out by clicking here.

A recent study showed that exercise leads to new brain cells growing in a region of the brain associated with memory.