How Walking and Cycling Quiets the Brain
Imagine walking on a meandering forest path with intermittent bird song punctuating the quiet morning air. Sunlight is streaming through gaps in the forest canopy and as you move forward through space, you pass stands of pine trees on your left, a babbling brook on your right, then a picnic bench, some standing deadwood, a red squirrel, another hiker. This movement of objects past you as you walk is called optic flow, and it turns out it’s really good for your mental health.
Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist and professor in the department of neurobiology at the Stanford School of Medicine. Huberman has made significant contributions to the fields of brain function and the emerging field of neural plasticity or how the brain changes itself. He says:
“Getting into a mode of forward ambulation, and especially experiencing visual flow has a powerful effect on the nervous system.”
Tucked beneath the innermost part of our brain’s temporal lobe is a specialized region called the amygdala. The small, almond-shaped group of neurons play an important role in detecting and processing fearful and threatening stimuli. It’s been called the “neurological hub of human emotion.”
Huberman points to several recent high-quality peer review studies showing that forward ambulation, including walking, cycling or running, generates lateral eye movements or optic flow, which has the “incredible property” of quieting the amount of neural activity in the brain’s threat-detection centre and reducing levels of anxiety.
Huberman highly recommends setting out for a walk or cycle in an outside environment, especially first thing in the morning. He says this can set your day and make you “alert and
responsive, instead of anxious and reactive.”
Looking for something to help quiet your amygdala?
Freewheeling Adventures offers extraordinary guided or self-guided walking, hiking or bicycling tours designed to provide a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. If you’re interested in some of our off-the-beaten track holiday hiking or cycling tours, check out our low-traffic bike tours or our wilderness hikes.
A few stand-out options include the Labrador Hiking Tour, six days of epic hiking on rugged pristine coastline; our Bernese Alps Hiking Tour, traveling by foot through the highlands of Switzerland; our stunning Hiroshima & The Seto Sea Bike Tour, often referred to as road bikers’ heaven; or the Confederation Trail Bike Tour in Prince Edward Island, cycling on a peaceful,