Tag Archives: walking

Hominin talus.

New research suggests humanity’s ancestors began walking upright earlier than believed

New research shows that one ancestor of modern humans was walking upright much more often than we believed.


The skull of the Ardipithecus ramidus specimen nicknamed “Ardi”.
Image credits T. Michael Keesey / Flickr.

One immediately-distinguishable feature of humans is the way we move about —  we’re unique among mammals in that we consistently walk upright. Since it’s such a distinguishing feature, anthropologists are very interested in finding out when our ancestors picked up the habit.

New research from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine suggests that at least one of our ancestors relied on bipedal walking much more than previously believed.

Early walker

“Our research shows that while Ardipithecus was a lousy biped, she was somewhat better than we thought before,” said Scott Simpson, a professor of anatomy at Case Western who led the study.

The findings come from an analysis Simpson’s team performed on fragments of a 4.5 million-year-old female Ardipithecus ramidus. This specimen was discovered in the Gona Project study area in the Afar Regional State of Ethiopia. Hip, ankle, and hallux (big toe) bones belonging to the ancient female showed that Ar. ramidus was far better adapted to bipedalism than previously thought, but still far from perfect.

Fossil evidence from this stage of humanity’s past are rare, so we have a pretty dim idea of what was going on at the time. As such, Simpson’s research — although seemingly a simple pursuit involving an ankle of all things — actually goes a long way into fleshing out our understanding of  Ardipithecus locomotion, as well as the timing, context, and anatomical details of ancient upright walking.

Previous research has shown that Ardipithecus was capable of walking upright and climbing trees — but the fossils that research was based on lacked the anatomical specializations seen in the Gona fossil examined by Simpson. This suggests that the species saw a wide range of adaptations as they transitioned to modern, upright walking as seen in modern humans.

“Our research shows that while Ardipithecus was a lousy biped, she was somewhat better than we thought before,” says Simpson.”The fact that [it] could both walk upright […] and scurry in trees marks it out as a pivotal transitional figure in our human lineage.”

Hominin talus.

A freshly-found fossil A. ramidus talus.
Image credits Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

The team says that certain adaptations in the specimen’s lower limbs are tell-tale signs of bipedality. Unlike monkeys and apes, for example, our big toes are parallel with the others. The team worked to reconstruct the foot’s range of motions by analyzing the area of the joints between the arch of the foot and the big toe. While joint cartilage no longer remains for the Ardipithecus fossil, the surface of the bone has a characteristic texture which shows that it had once been covered by cartilage.

Having all toes neatly parallel to one another allows the foot to function as a propulsive lever when walking. Ardipithecus had an offset grasping big toe useful for climbing in trees, but the team’s analysis showed that it was also used to help propel the individual forward when walking — in other words, it’s a mixed-use tool, indicative of a transition towards bipedalism. The team also reports that Ardipithecus’s knees were aligned directly above its ankles when it stood. This latter characteristic is also similar to what you’d see in a modern (bipedal) human, and stands in contrast to what you’d see in a (non-bipedal) chimp, for example, whose knees are “outside” the ankle, i.e., they are bow-legged, when they stand.

The paper “Ardipithecus ramidus postcrania from the Gona Project area, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia” has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Human-like walking evolved before the genus Homo, more than 3.6 million years ago

Hominins may have started walking like us much more earlier than believed, new research shows.


Image credits Ajay Karat.

It may not be obvious, but we draw a lot of meaning from the way we walk — from the way we walk and other animals don’t, to be more precise.

At the start of each playthrough in the latest installment of Civilization, a narrator eases you into the game with the words “from man’s first upright steps”. We laugh when pets rise on their hind feet and share videos of it with our friends, chuckling all around at the animal that ‘thinks it’s human!’. That ubiquitous picture showing the evolution of man starts with an ape walking on all fours in the left and ends with a man walking on just two. And, well, to understand somebody, your best bet seems to be to walk a mile in his or her shoes.

In subtle ways, we see our bipedal walk as something that sets us apart from the rest of the animals on Earth. Something that’s intrinsic to what it means to be human.


As such, ever since we’ve realized that people had to evolve from apes, our collective imagination has given quite a lot of thought to the moment when our ancestors rose from ape-like postures to the upright gait we use today. Scientists have also been interested in finding out when it happened, as that would give us precious insight into the way our ancestors lived, hunted, and evolved.

Fossilized footprints discovered in Laetoli, Tanzania, suggests that the hallmark human-like, extended leg bipedalism evolved substantially earlier than previously believed.

“Fossil footprints are truly the only direct evidence of walking in the past,” said David Raichlen, PhD, associate professor at the University of Arizona, one of two authors of the paper describing these findings.

“By 3.6 million years ago, our data suggest that if you can account for differences in size, hominins were walking in a way that is very similar to living humans. While there may have been some nuanced differences, in general, these hominins probably looked like us when they walked.”

Our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, is believed to have emerged some 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. Homo, our genus (extended family) as a whole, likely emerged some 2-2.5 million years ago. These are ‘humans’.

We refer to the wider set of ancestors that came before Homo as ‘hominins‘, although there is still a lot of debate on what species should be included in that group and what the relationships between them are. This is partly due to the fact that species evolve gradually, in small increments, making it hard to distinguish clearly, partly due to a lackluster fossil record, and partly because evolutionary anthropologists seem decided not to agree on anything, ever.

Common wisdom up to now held that hominids took to two feet around 7 million years ago. Based on observations of how other primate species evolved, however, it was also largely held that these hominids likely walked in a crouched posture with legs bent for quite some time.

Walk a mile in this mud

Raichlen’s and his colleagues’ work focuses on reconstructing walking mechanics starting from fossilized footprints and skeletons of early human ancestors. Together with co-author Adam Gordon (University at Albany), he used a combination of morphological studies and experimental data to show that the Laetoli footprints point to a fully upright, human-like bipedal style of walking.

In one experiment, the duo asked eight volunteers to walk in either an upright or stooped posture, with bent knees and hips, on a mud surface — then compared the depth and shape of their footprints to the Laetoli ones. When they analyzed the impression made by the toe versus the heel, which reflects how the center of pressure moves along your foot as you take a step, they found the footprints at Laeoli were much more similar to the footprints made by modern humans walking upright than stooped.

Our ancestors used to walk with a similar upright gait 3.6 million years ago. Credit: David Raichlen, University of Arizona.

Our ancestors used to walk with a similar upright gait 3.6 million years ago. Credit: David Raichlen, University of Arizona.

Raichlen believes this can be explained by simple economics. When walking upright, having your legs fully extended uses less energy than adopting a stooped, more ape-like position. This suggests that the switch to a more human-like gait likely had something to do with how our ancestors found food, and how far they had to travel to find it.

“The data suggest that by this time in our evolutionary history, selection for reduced energy expenditures during walking was strong,” said Raichlen.

“This work suggests that, by 3.6 million years ago, climate and habitat changes likely led to the need for ancestral hominins to walk longer distances during their daily foraging bouts. Selection may have acted at this time to improve energy economy during locomotion, generating the human-like mechanics we employ today.”

Raichlen, however, cautions that we still don’t know when hominins started adopting different gaits than other primates — we just know that they were walking upright 3.6 million years ago. Until we find the right footprints, that question will remain unanswered.

The paper “Using experimental biomechanics to reconstruct the evolution of hominin locomotor postures” has been presented at the American Association of Anatomists‘ annual meeting during the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting.

Are you living in a lazy or an active country? Study maps how much the world walks

A new study amassed “planetary-scale” data from people’s smartphones to see how active they are. They found that people from Hong Kong are the most active (6,880 steps a day), while Indonesians fared the worst (3,513).

Image credits: Althoff et al / Nature.

In a world that’s struggling to deal with an obesity pandemic, day-to-day physical activity is an important and underrated way of losing some pounds and staying (at least somewhat) fit. With that in mind, Stanford Researchers used data from 700,000 people who used the Argus activity monitoring app, analyzing 68 million days’ worth of minute-by-minute data. They found that worldwide, people take an average of 4,961 steps a day. Generally speaking, eastern Europe and eastern Asia seem more active, with Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Arab peninsula being the laziest.

Of course, walking is just one measure of how active a country is. While walking is the most popular physical activity worldwide (though we don’t often think of it that way), the study fails to capture activities where it’s impractical to carry a phone (such as playing ball games or swimming), and other ways of physical locomotion (ie cycling). Still, it’s a trove of data, and by far the largest such effort undertaken so far.

“The study is 1,000 times larger than any previous study on human movement,” said Scott Delp, a professor of bioengineering and one of the researchers in the study. “There have been wonderful health surveys done, but our new study provides data from more countries, many more subjects, and tracks people’s activity on an ongoing basis. This opens the door to new ways of doing science at a much larger scale than we have been able to do before.”

The study revealed an interesting pattern: there wasn’t a direct connection between fewer steps and obesity rates. Instead, obesity rates correlated with “activity inequality.” Just like social inequality is an indicator of how well a country’s population is doing, activity inequality seems to be a great indicator of obesity rates. Basically, countries with a high activity inequality also had higher obesity rates. For instance, people from the United States and Mexico walked just as much, but inequality was much higher in the US — and so is the obesity rate. Another interesting finding is that in such countries, with a high inequality, the inequality is largely driven by differences between men and women. So when you draw the line, countries where women walk significantly less than men tend to be countries with high obesity rates.

As a notable counter-example, in Japan, where men and women exhibit similar levels of physical activity, obesity rates are very low. Researchers have some idea about why this is happening. Jure Leskovec, also part of the research team, explained:

“When activity inequality is greatest, women’s activity is reduced much more dramatically than men’s activity, and thus the negative connections to obesity can affect women more greatly.”

Image credits: Althoff et al / Nature.

They also carried out an analysis of the city walkability. Not surprisingly, cities that were more walkable encouraged people to walk more and stay healthier. Walkability is a complex element, which gives scores from 1 to 100 to amenities (such as shops and parks) within a 0.25 to 1.5 mile radius and measures of friendliness to pedestrians, measuring factors such as city block length and intersection density. For the 69 cities in the USA with at least 200 users, walkability scores correlated with activity inequality, which in turn correlated with obesity. So if you want people to lose weight, make it easier for them to walk the city. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s good to have the big data to back it up.

Researchers actually hope their work can enable city officials and policy makers to make cities more friendly to pedestrians. Of course, curving down obesity will involve a broader approach, focusing on nutrition as well as physical activity, but walking is beneficial in more ways than one. Encouraging people to walk can make a great difference in a city’s health, also reducing emissions as a nice side effect.

The study was published in Nature.

Children shoes.

Scientists find the step-by-step process by which your shoelaces come undone

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley finally have the answer to why our shoelaces become untied when we walk – and what can do to make it happen less often.

Children shoes.

Shoelaces have a very annoying tendency to come undone out of the blue, for no apparent reason. To find out why, a team of researchers from the University of California took to the treadmill with a high-speed camera. They report that the repeated, specific impact generated by walking loosens the knot and then pulls it apart.

The team was led by Christine Gregg, a Berkeley mechanical engineering PhD student. Being a runner herself, Gregg laced up and ran on a treadmill so the team could study what happened to the knots. They filmed the shoes using a super-high-speed camera recording at about 900 frames per second, so they could take a frame-by-frame look at what was happening.

The recording showed that the impact of each step hitting the ground loosens the knot, and the swinging motion generated at the laces’ ends as our feet move forward pulls the knot apart. Furthermore, the team showed that both these elements have to work together to untie your laces – Gregg’s knots stayed firm when she sat on a chair and swung her legs back and forth or when she stomped down on the ground without any swinging motion. Finally, running makes the knots come undone much faster since it’s more energetic than walking.

The knot to tie all knots

But as we all probably well know, not all shoelaces come untied everytime you go for a walk or a jog. Obviously, tying them tighter makes it less likely they’ll do so. But there’s also another way you can tie them to make the know last longer, the team says – although currently, they don’t really know why this works, just that it does.

The usual (and weaker) bow is based on the ‘granny knot’, they write. You tie it up by crossing the left end over the right one and bringing the left end under and out. You make a loop in your right hand, wrap the other lace counter-clockwise around the loop, and finally pull it through. But they found that a bow based on the square knot fares much better when walking or running. You start tying it the same way as the knot above. The difference is that after you make a loop in your right hand, you instead wrap the other lace clockwise around it.

Tying shoelaces.

Image credits University of California, Berkeley.

Both of these knots will eventually come undone, the team says, but the weaker bow failed twice as often as the stronger one over a 15-minute running period.

On a more personal note, I’ve found that if you tie your shoelaces into a knot and then take the two loops of the bow and knot them again, you shouldn’t have any problem with them coming undone.

Still, while trials can show us which knots are strong and which are likely to fall apart pretty fast, we don’t really know why.
The research could help further our understanding of this question, and has implications for several fields of activity: for example, it could help design better stitches which are less likely to come undone.

The full paper “The roles of impact and inertia in the failure of a shoelace knot” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.


Feeling down? Walk it off! No really, walking is all you have to do

Need a morale boost? Get out of your chair and take a short walk to lift your spirits.


Our bodies were designed for near constant activity and yet, most of us today have trouble finding time in our day to exercise. This turn of events is really unfortunate, considering the fact that physical exercise has been shown time and time again to help alleviate depression — which a record number of people suffer from.

But you don’t need hours at the gym to get a boost to your mood, University of Connecticut researchers report. Simply getting out of the chair and taking a walk around can reduce depression and give you a general state of well-being, they report.

“We hope this research helps people realize the important public health message that simply going from doing no physical activity to performing some physical activity can improve their subjective well-being,” says Gregory Panza, a graduate student in UConn’s Department of Kinesiology and the study’s lead author.

“What is even more promising for the physically inactive person is that they do not need to exercise vigorously to see these improvements,” Panza continues. “Instead, our results indicate you will get the best ‘bang for your buck’ with light or moderate intensity physical activity.”

This is particularly encouraging news as ‘light physical activity’ is basically walking. Simple, standard, vanilla walking, the kind where you don’t break a sweat or notice an increase in breathing or heart rate. The benchmark ‘moderate physical activity’ is walking a 15-20 minute mile with a slight increase in breathing and heart rate — while still be able to hold a conversation– as well as mild sweating. ‘Vigorous’ exercise is equivalent to jogging a 13-minute mile with heavy sweating and a significant increase in breathing and heart rate, up to the point where you’d be unable to maintain a conversation.

Do a little shake

The researchers gave 419 healthy middle-aged adults accelerometers to wear for four days so the team could record their physical activity. The participants also completed a series of questionnaires in which they described their daily exercise habits and reported on their levels of depression, pain intensity, the extent to which pain interfered with their daily activity, and psychological well-being.

The team found a powerful correlation between sedentary behavior and the lower levels of subjective well-being (positive and negative evaluations the participants made about their lives). Those who reported sitting around for most of the day reported lower levels of happiness, and those who did even limited physical exercise had a positive boost to their mood.

For example, those who participated in light-intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of depression. People who participated in moderate-intensity activity reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of pain severity.

Two surprising finds were, first, that the greatest improvement in well-being was reported by those who lead typically-sedentary lives and engaged in light or moderate activity, and secondly, that vigorous exercise didn’t seem to cause any positive or negative shift in subjective well-being.

“The ‘more is better’ mindset may not be true when it comes to physical activity intensity and subjective well-being,” Gregory Panza, a graduate student in UConn’s Department of Kinesiology and the study’s lead author. “In fact, an ‘anything is better’ attitude may be more appropriate if your goal is a higher level of subjective well-being.”

Overall, very encouraging findings — if you’re trying to mood up through exercise, anything will help; and at the same time, you can’t be worse off no matter how hard you work out. That last point, in particular, should come as great news for those who enjoy hard, calorie-burning workouts, as it doesn’t support a widely reported recent study that found high-intensity workouts significantly lowered some people’s sense of well-being.

Still, the authors note that all participants of the study had a generally positive sense of well-being and were generally physically active going into the project, so their answers should be interpreted with that in mind. Another limitation is that the study only analyzed one point in time. A longitudinal study (which tracks people over time) would offer a better glimpse into the relationship between exercise and mood,

The full paper “Physical activity intensity and subjective well-being in healthy adults” has been published in the Journal of Health Psychology.

New paper explains why predatory dinosaurs walked on two feet while mammals stayed on all fours

A new paper from the University of Alberta details a novel theory as to why predatory dinosaurs took up bipedal movement, while their mammal counterparts didn’t.

Image credits Chase Elliott Clark / Flickr.

Even dinosaurs have ancestors. One feature some of them (carnivores) inherited from these so-called proto-dinosaurs is bipedalism — walking on their two hind legs as opposed to all fours, like for example the sauropods. This trait comes down to the way their tail evolved, explains lead author and postdoctoral fellow Scott Persons

“The tails of proto-dinosaurs had big, leg-powering muscles,” he says. “Having this muscle mass provided the strength and power required for early dinosaurs to stand on and move with their two back feet. We see a similar effect in many modern lizards that rise up and run bipedally.”

The paper contradicts theories which state that early proto-dinosaurs rose on two legs to free their ‘hands’ for hunting. Persons and his team mate Phil Currie, paleontologist and Canada Research Chair, say that such theories don’t explain why some herbivore groups of dinosaurs retained bipedalism. Instead, they believe proto-dinosaurs evolved over time to run faster and over longer distances.

This specialization was reflected in anatomical changes such as longer hind limbs to allow faster walking speeds and smaller fore limbs to reduce overall weight and help improve balance. These changes became significant enough in some proto-dinosaur families that they gave up quadrupedal walking altogether.

Because mammals were initially adapted to burrowing and hiding from the much bigger and more powerful dinosaurs, they didn’t have any need to move fast. They also needed powerful (and heavy) fore limbs to dig. Having a big tail or a muscular back actually became a disadvantage for the burrowers, so they lost their big tail-based leg muscles and for the most part remained quadrupedal.

“Looking across the fossil record, we can trace when our proto-mammal ancestors actually lost those muscles. It seems to have happened back in the Permian period, over 252 million years ago,” Persons says.

“[Having a long tail] also makes the distance a predator has to reach in to grab you that much shorter. That’s why modern burrowers tend to have particularly short tails. Think rabbits, badgers, and moles.”

In the end, burrowing saved mammals from going extinct with the dinosaurs at the end of the Permian. But when mammals did crawl out and some evolved into apex predators, they lacked the tail muscles that would have inclined them towards bipedalism.

The full paper “The functional origin of dinosaur bipedalism: Cumulative evidence from bipedally inclined reptiles and disinclined mammals” has been published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.


Humans hacked walking by stepping on the heel not the toes, like other animals do

Why do humans step on their heels, while most animals do so on the balls of their feet? A longer leg is better suited to walking and running, so why would we evolve shorter ones? A new study found that stepping heel-to-toes makes for a longer “virtual leg”, allowing us to walk and run more efficiently.


Image via giphy

For mammals aiming to get better at walking, the best bet is to evolve longer legs. You can see it in how cats’ or dogs’ legs are shaped — the heel is high in the air and the foot touches the ground on the little balls behind the toes. But humans, who are walkers by excellence, have dropped this system altogether and evolved a heel-to-toe stepping style.

For University of Arizona anthropologist James Webber, this question was particularly intriguing — he took up barefoot running 12 years ago and has had plenty of time to ponder on how his feet hit the pavement. Shod runners typically land their steps with an initial heel strike, while barefoot runners tend to land on the middle part or the balls of the foot. This, however, would feel unnatural to them while walking.

So what gives?

In his latest study, Webber describes why humans have evolved this seemingly counter-intuitive stride.

“We’ve dropped our heels down on the ground, which physically makes our legs shorter than they could be if were up on our toes, and this was a conundrum to us (scientists),” Webber said.

So Webber and co-author UA anthropologist David Raichlen set up a treadmill in the University’s Evolutionary Biomechanics Lab and started looking at people walk. They asked some participants to walk normally and others to walk toe-first. The later group moved slower and put in 10% more effort than their counterparts.

The two believe that the answer still comes down to limb length. While animals usually elevate the heel to increase this value, Webber says heel-first walking creates a longer limb by adding some “virtual leg”. He describes a walking human as an inverted pendulum. Our bodies can be seen as pivoting over the point where the soles come in contact with the ground. As we step, our weight is distributed along the length of the sole and the true pivot point “forms” midfoot several centimeters below the ground, allowing for longer strides.

“Humans land on their heel and push off on their toes. You land at one point, and then you push off from another point eight to 10 inches away from where you started. If you connect those points to make a pivot point, it happens underneath the ground, basically, and you end up with a new kind of limb length that you can understand,” Webber explains.

“Mechanically, it’s like we have a much longer leg than you would expect.”

To take it another way, let’s simplify a step taken by an animal into three points forming a downward triangle. The lower point would be where the foot touches the ground, and the two points on top would be where the hips are at the start and the end of the stride. The longer the line connecting the step and hip points (the leg,) the longer the stride becomes. Webber found that while the step point is at ground level for other animals, it’s actually underground for humans. This makes the sides of the triangle longer than our legs actually are because we gain “extra leg” underground, so to speak.

A leg up

The team found who subjects that walked normally had legs that were, in essence, 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) longer. Even better, this virtual limb length means we’re more efficient walkers than if we landed on the balls of our feet.

“The extra ‘virtual limb’ length is longer than if we had just had them stand on their toes, so it seems humans have found a novel way of increasing our limb length and becoming more efficient walkers than just standing on our toes,” Webber said.

“It still all comes down to limb length, but there’s more to it than how far our hip is from the ground. Our feet play an important role, and that’s often something that’s been overlooked.”

When speeding up the treadmill to study the transition from walking to running, the team also found that toe-first participants switched to running at lower speeds — further suggesting that it’s less efficient for humans.

Archaeological evidence (footprints found preserved in volcanic ash in Latoli, Tanzania) shows that ancient hominids have been heel-to-toe walking for at least 3.6 million years now. But they likely had rigid feet, proportionately much longer than our own — about 70% the length of their femur, compared to our 54%. This likely made them better runners than modern humans, but Webber thinks we’ve evolved shorter legs to become better hunters and pursuers.

“When you’re running, if you have a really long foot and you need to push off really hard way out at the end of your foot, that adds a lot of torque and bending.”

“So the idea is that as we shifted into running activities, our feet started to shrink because it maybe it wasn’t as important to be super-fast walkers. Maybe it became important to be really good runners,” Webber concludes.

Well, now at least I know why my girlfriend walks so slow in heels — she’s losing more virtual leg than gaining actual leg. Not that I’m complaining.

I’m all about actual legs.

The full paper “The role of plantigrady and heel-strike in the mechanics and energetics of human walking with implications for the evolution of the human foot” has been published in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Photo: flickr

Taking a walk encourages creativity more than sitting

Photo: flickr

Photo: flickr

If you’ve ever read the biographies of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, you may have noticed that one of their favorite pastimes was taking long and relaxing walks. For instance, Charles Darwin had a fixed schedule that demanded he begins his morning rituals with a walk upon waking at 7:00, and only after take breakfast. Aldous Huxley, Winston Churchill, Immanuel Kant, just to name a few. These were all great men that excelled in their creativity and problem solving, and though each may have left their mark on posterity in a different manner, they all share a common trait – no day went by without taking a walk.

Now, I’m not saying walking in parks all day is going to make you a champion, but according to a recent study  published by the American Psychological Association, when the task at hand requires some imagination, taking a walk may lead to more creative thinking than plain ol’ sitting.

“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking,” said Marily Oppezzo, PhD, of Santa Clara University. “With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why.”

The power of a simple walk down the park

Previous studies showed that regular aerobic exercise may protect cognitive abilities, however Oppezzo and colleagues showed that even mild physical activity can have significant positive effects on cognition and creativity in particular. Multiple experiments were conducted involving 176 participants, who were divided into walkers and sitters.

They found that those who walked instead of sitting or being pushed in a wheelchair consistently gave more creative responses on tests commonly used to measure creative thinking, such as thinking of alternate uses for common objects and coming up with original analogies to capture complex ideas. When asked to solve problems with a single answer, however, the walkers fell slightly behind those who responded while sitting.

[ALSO READ] Walking through doorways makes you forget things, study finds

What’s remarkable is how more creative the walkers were. Of the students tested for creativity while walking, 100 percent came up with more creative ideas in one experiment, while 95 percent, 88 percent and 81 percent of the walker groups in the other experiments had more creative responses compared with when they were sitting. Of course, stating a wacky idea didn’t get you points – all answers, though the questions called for originality, had to be feasible and respect certain imposed constraints.

The experiments were thought such that the participant’s creativity was engaged. For one experiment, the researchers put each of the 48 participants alone in a small room facing a blank wall – this ensured minimum external stimuli that might interfere with their creative process. They were then asked to think of as many alternative uses they could for a common object. For example, for the word “button,” a person might say “as a doorknob on a dollhouse.”

With a different group of 48 students, some sat for two different sets of the tests, some walked during two sets of the test and some walked and then sat for the tests.

“This confirmed that the effect of walking during the second test set was not due to practice,” Oppezzo said. “Participants came up with fewer novel ideas when they sat for the second test set after walking during the first. However, they did perform better than the participants who sat for both sets of tests, so there was a residual effect of walking on creativity when people sat down afterward. Walking before a meeting that requires innovation may still be nearly as useful as walking during the meeting.”

A novel idea is considered to be an idea that hadn’t been encountered in a response from any of the participants, regardless of the group. Students who walked in another experiment doubled their number of novel responses compared with when they were sitting.

[RELATED] Ourdoor activities enhance creativity and problem solving abilities

But is it exposure to nature or simply being outside that causes these cognitive benefits? To see if walking in itself, no matter the environment, leads to the observed benefits  the researchers devised  another experiment with 40 participants and compared responses of students walking outside or inside on a treadmill with the responses of students being pushed in a wheelchair outside and sitting inside. Again, the students who walked, whether indoors or outside, came up with more creative responses than those either sitting inside or being pushed in a wheelchair outdoors. “While being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking appears to have a very specific benefit of improving creativity,” said Oppezzo.

There you have it. Tomorrow, maybe you’d like to have your coffee with you outside.

The study was published in APA’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.