A few years ago, I discovered that walking made studying Chinese more pleasant and studying Chinese made walking more pleasant. It’s a big effect. While walking on a treadmill I could easily study Chinese for 40 minutes; while sitting or standing still, 5-10 minutes. The general idea seems to be that walking creates a thirst for novelty, for dry information. An evolutionary explanation is that this effect caused us to better explore our surroundings. Such exploration paid off too rarely and/or with too-long delays to be supported by the usual reward-action mechanism.
Jeremy Howard, the president of Kaggle, discovered the same effect independently while studying Chinese. A few days ago, I heard from Patrick Roach, a medical student in the Midwest, who also discovered the same effect independently — in his case, studying anatomy rather than Chinese. He blogged about the Anki/treadmill combination. I asked him if walking on a treadmill made it easier to study Anki? He replied:
Absolutely. I originally tried this with a 3100 card deck I created while studying anatomy in med school. The format (Image/Name) was perfect for reviewing while walking, as there wasn’t too much text to read. I imagine your experience with learning a new language was similar. Anyways, Treadmill + Anki (+Music) along with my Tablet / Wiimote combo was much more productive than either task alone. I could easily spend 1-2 hours and not notice the time passing in the same way it dragged on when trying to study endless flashcards sitting in a quiet room. Getting tired or losing focus was less of an issue as well – I noticed I had less distractions/extra attention to spare while walking.
Thanks for getting in touch, Patrick. As Lewis Carroll said, “What I tell you three times is true.”