Orienteering can help exercise a mental process you’ve outsourced to your phone, experts say

It’s common for people on the go today to type an address into a phone, follow the directions, and arrive safely at their destination.

But for those dedicated to the sport of orienteering, the challenge is to make complex mental calculations to determine the fastest route across the country.

Don Mason, a longtime member of South West Orienteering Trekkers in Bunbury, Western Australia, said it was exciting to find your way through the woods with just a topographical map and a compass.

“It’s much more exciting for me, I’ve found, when I’m running in the bush with a map and navigating than if I’m just running along the track,” he said.

Mark Williams says a sense of place is key to developing lasting memories.(Provided: Mark Williams)

sense of place

Mark Williams, honorary professor of cognitive neuroscience, said many of us have passed the baton to our phones.

He said humans evolved to create mental maps to get around, and our ability to remember was deeply tied to the practice of wayfinding.

“We actually remember what we did during the day based on where we were during the day,” Dr Williams said.

He said when people used an app to find their way, it became more difficult to have a lasting memory of what happened when they arrived at their destination.

Dr Williams said the part of the brain that lets you navigate the world – the parahippocampal gyrus area – can actually shrink when not exercised.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” he said.

A woman with short hair stands smiling in front of a tree.
According to Romola Bucks, orienteering can help people reconnect with the environment.(Provided: University of Western Australia)

A way back

Romola Bucks from the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Western Australia said orienteering could be valuable exercise for adults and children.

“I suspect we’re losing skills that would be relevant to orienteering, and orienteering would be really good to repeat,” she said.

“I think if we don’t allow children to go outside and learn math, reading and orienteering and survival skills, we’re depriving them of a very important set of life skills. .

Dino J. Dotson