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What is Silent Walking?

Coming around last year was a TikTok trend different than what one may expect from a social media outlet. It’s called silent walking, where one puts away all their technology, primarily their phone when going for a walk. No texting, no music, no podcasts. Only the sounds of your surroundings and your footsteps to listen to. 

So, what caused the trend of silent walking to take off? 

It was after a social media influencer named Mady Maio shared that she had been advised to walk for 30 minutes a day by a health care physician. Her boyfriend challenged her to take these walks without distractions, namely her phone. She found that she entered a flow state once she began walking and could hear herself while she walked. From this, she realized that if you’re always plugged into a smart device, headphones acting as earplugs, you’re never really with your thoughts. 

Maio herself has said that silent walking has changed her life. While the trend itself doesn’t advocate specifically for nature strolls, studies have long since indicated the benefits associated with walking in nature. While there is a certain irony that the trend started where the problem lay, the cell phone each of us carries in our pocket, the trend has reached millions across the platform, the original video posted by Maio surpassing half a million likes before being deleted. 

For many, taking a walk is simple, but walking without headphones in their ear or a phone in their pocket is a different matter. By silently walking without being distracted by music or podcasts, we allow ourselves to be immersed in the environment. In our daily lives, we’re in a world increasingly burdened by technology, meaning these breaks are becoming more and more necessary.  

Some data indicates we average approximately 7 hours of direct screen time per day, ranging from computers to phones and time spent watching TV screens. Some studies suggest the figures are higher, much higher than this, but the picture is clear: we are continually engaging with screens. Without headphones or a screen in front of us, we allow ourselves to be present in a moment of silence. 

Putting away all our technology for a nice walk comes with benefits many may not expect. A 2013 study published in Brain Structure and Function found that silence may be a catalyst for neurogenesis – the creation of new brain cells – in mice. The study put mice in various auditory settings and found that silent environments were correlated with the generation of precursor cells, which eventually matured into new neurons.

Similar growth was not seen among mice exposed to the music of Mozart on piano, though different positive effects were seen among that group. While studies performed on rodents are not a direct reflection of the effect which would be had on the human brain, the study is still worth regarding as a positive indicator of the lasting effects of silence on the mammalian brain.

In a plugged-in and live-streamed world, it is easy to lose track of what is really happening around us as we submerge ourselves into digital realms catered to our wants and desires. When we put our headphones in to take a walk, reality, what is actually occurring around us, is secondary to the digital world we prefer with personalized playlists. What we miss in the process of disconnecting from the real world is subtle but impactful. On a given day, you might hear the distant hum of traffic, the songs of birds in the morning or the rustle and whirl of wind through the trees. It is a gentle harmony many of us have become accustomed to tuning out for the benefit of a few good songs. 

The Value of a Good Walk 

According to Harvard Medical School, the benefits of walking are tremendous. Walking is a good way to get moving in a low-impact, low-energy way. The benefits of fresh air help many get control of their sweet tooth, reducing the amount of overall sweets a person eats per sitting. Walking can also help to reduce joint pain, including arthritis-related pains, and act as a preventative measure against developing arthritis for some. Walking helps lubricate the hips and knees, which helps prevent the development of osteoarthritis and strengthens support muscles.

Walking is also known to boost immune function. One study documented the walking habits of over 1,000 men. Findings indicated that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day for at least five days a week had 43 per cent fewer sick days in a year than those who exercised once a week or less. When frequent walkers did get sick, they experienced milder symptoms for noticeably less time. Walking has also been associated with strengthening the heart, improving blood circulation, and enhancing overall mood and mental acuity.  

While these general benefits will apply to anyone out for a stroll, it is also important to consider the value of getting away from the technology in your pocket and the noise of the city. Particularly when we walk in nature, we have the opportunity to experience true peace and quiet. Being in nature, or even a large park suited for a long walk, has been proven to reduce stress, lowering the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and leading to an overall improvement in mood among participants.

Time spent in nature, appreciating the slow pace of the natural world, was proven to reduce stress among those involved in a study from the University of Essex. Their study indicated that even just 5 minutes of exposure to nature can significantly reduce stress levels. Other studies around the benefits of time spent with nature have indicated that adequate time spent in nature can have lasting results, including overall life satisfaction and internal intuition. 

For some, the trend of silent walking is a painful indication of how prevalent technology addiction is. To that, we must admit to ourselves it is a little silly to see taking a walk without headphones or a cell phone as a breakthrough idea. There are still more who will have difficulty with the idea, and parting with their cell phone may be much easier said than done.   

In 2023, 34.6 million Canadians reportedly had a cell phone, and one study of Americans – with whom we have many social similarities – showed the average American checks their phone 144 times daily. We are continually letting more and more time be consumed by our phones. Today, we use our phones for banking and checking menus as often as we take actual phone calls. While unplugging from all of it to walk around the neighbourhood or through a lovely park might seem like a small gesture with minimal outcomes, it is worth trying. 

Give it a week and see how it goes for you. Maybe you’ll like what it’s like after the anxiety of being unplugged goes away.  

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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