Walk the walk

  • 1st July 2024

Mike Buchanan recommends the power of movement to improve creative and strategic thinking


Most days during my time as a headteacher, I would find myself getting restless after lunch. This was my cue to get up from behind my desk and start wandering around the school with little purpose other than to find interesting things going on and talk to people, students and adults, about what they were doing. It also gave me an opportunity to think and consider matters that were on my mind. Almost always, the result of that leisurely walk around the school campus was greater clarity, renewed energy, wider imagination and enhanced creativity.

It is perhaps unsurprising that this is so as, inevitably, ideas are often sparked by seemingly random conversations with people, or timely observations of what people are doing.

Walking and talking

More recently, I have taken to holding important conversations with others while walking. This might be your standard phone conversation or, more importantly, in-person conversations, one-to-one. Walking side-by-side, taking in the environment and the atmosphere as you walk, seems to lend itself to gentler, more productive, and more creative conversations. This is precisely why Steve Jobs designed the Apple HQ in California as an enormous doughnut with wide open interior spaces and an extensive park in the centre of the doughnut. He recognised the value of walking and talking to enhance the creativity, connection and imagination of his engineers and designers.

Follow the science

If you remain unconvinced, then I hope you are sufficiently open-minded to give it a try. If you need some evidence to help you, have a look at a 2014 study by Oppezzo and Schwartz, which shows very clearly a correlation between leisurely walking and creative thought. Of course, that is not to say that there is a direct causal link and further research, no doubt, will seek to investigate whether it is walking specifically, or gentle exercise which boosts the creative juices. In the meantime, though, the correlation is a strong one.

Even walking on a treadmill indoors has a marked effect when compared with being sedentary.

Clarity of thought

Composers, writers, playwrights, painters, sculptors, directors, scientists, engineers, politicians, historians, mathematicians and many more have all used the power of leisurely walks to promote their inspirational thinking and imagination. It may well apply to you, your staff and your students, so why not give it a go?

Build solitary walking into your daily routine and try having those important conversations side-by-side, step after step. 

In Praise of Walking

Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara believes that plenty of regular walking unlocks cognitive powers in the brain like nothing else. In his book In Praise of Walking, he reveals what happens in our brains when we are walking. He discusses what he calls a “motor-centric” view of the brain, essentially, that it evolved in particular to support movement and, as a consequence, the less we move the less effective our brains work.

When we walk with others, there are rhythms in the brain that are activated which are absent when sitting. Also, our senses are sharpened.

He also highlights a study from 2018 that tracked a group of participants’ activity levels and personality traits over a couple of decades. It revealed that those who moved the least developed personality changes. They scored much lower in positive traits such as openness, being agreeable and extraversion. Furthermore, there’s a growing body of data that shows that walkers have lower rates of depression.


Mike Buchanan is the founder of consultancy Positively Leading. He is a former headteacher and chair of HMC.

Mike Buchanan
©Russell Sach

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