Take One Step Back

Some of us may recall a time when we relied on the advice of our parents to get us through childhood. More specifically, the advice that told us we must “step back and walk away” from bullies and our problems. Well apparently Mum knew better than we thought, because recent studies have proven that walking backwards increases and sharpens our thinking.

Walking and running backwards is already a huge phenomenon in Japan. They believe that running backwards burns more calories than running forward, and is better on the knee joints. Others are more cautious about being in reverse, and choose to stretch backwards instead. Many of the Japanese believe that stretching backwards (standing straight and reaching your arms above your head and behind you, instead of touching your toes) will keep your spine straight and prolongs life. Even if the Japanese methods have yet to be approved, researchers in the Netherlands have found evidence that the trend may be beneficial after all.

Forget putting your foot down during conflict or problems, just step back. According to Severine Koch, PhD, Radboud University, Netherlands, “Whenever you encounter a difficult situation, stepping backward may boost your capability to deal with it effectively,”. Koch and colleagues were interested in the mental effects of approach, versus avoidance, they hypothesized that the brain is usually more alert when it is defense mode (avoidance mode), so they set to work in researching their theory.

A group of students were asked to read a color word that sometimes printed in matching ink (example – the word “green” printed in green ink.) They were asked to read the color of the ink while stepping forwards, backwards, and sideways. It was easy when the color of the ink matched the word, but when they became more difficult, (example – the word “black” was written in blue ink) and the students had to recite the color of the ink while stepping forwards, backwards, and sideways, the reaction time of those stepping backwards was the quickest. “Backward locomotion appears to be a very powerful trigger to mobilize cognitive resource”, Koch and colleagues wrote after discovering that the reaction time for those stepping backwards was much greater than those stepping in other directions.

Next time you are faced with a problem, don’t stand your ground – back up! The solution may be behind you.

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