Independent Discovery That Walking Catalyzes Learning

Two years ago I discovered that if I walked while studying Chinese flashcards (using Anki), both activities — walking and studying — became easier. I could walk much longer on my treadmill and I could study much longer. Walking made studying more pleasant and vice-versa. Around the same time, Jeremy Howard, the president of Kaggle, made the same discovery independently. In an email to me, he writes:

I came up with the idea accidentally a couple of years ago – I needed to go to the gym every day, and that included 30 minutes on a cross-trainer (but I only managed to do 15 min most days). I needed something to do to keep me amused, so I brought along my PC and started doing my Anki whilst on the cross-trainer. I discovered I could do my cross-trainer for at least twice as long, and my Anki results were better too. Later I added treadmill walking to my Anki study too.

He says more about it, including how much it helped him, in a QS talk.

As Nabokov says in Pale Fire,

If on some nameless island Captain Schmidt
Sees a new animal and captures it,
And if, a little later, Captain Smith
Brings back a skin, that island is no myth.

Learning methods that use this effect are going to have a big advantage over learning methods that don’t.

2 Replies to “Independent Discovery That Walking Catalyzes Learning”

  1. Seth, I am thinking about making a treadmill desk. Have you paid attention to your ability to do more creative work while walking? When I say creative work, I mean things like programming, any kind of design, writing.

    Thanks in advance, Ilya.

    Seth: I think treadmill walking makes it harder to do creative work, such as writing. I prefer sitting down for that. It puts me in an outer-directed frame of mind (paying more attention to the outside world), while creative work requires introspection.

  2. I find I come up with my most creative ideas when I am moving through space. This used to be walking in the woods but I can no longer go for those hikes because of health reasons. I do notice that while I’m driving in the car, my mind becomes creative. (This is at times other than rush hour.) I am fascinated with the fact that my mind becomes creative the moment I move. When I stop at stop lights my ideas are put on hold. So I prefer to drive in the open country where they can flow freely.

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