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April 2024

Orienteering: A Workout for Your Body and Mind

In a world full of navigation apps and GPS systems, it’s getting rarer for people to find their own way around. But if you don’t use the parts of the brain that control navigation, you might lose some of these abilities. This can lead to overall cognitive decline.

For a fun, active solution that also benefits your physical health, try orienteering. It’s an activity that combines exercise with reading a map and using a compass.

What is orienteering?

You can practice orienteering at special courses in parks, forests, or other spaces. Participants use maps marked with a start, finish, and several checkpoints between. Using only the map and a compass, they walk or run between checkpoints using any route they choose.

Courses vary in length and difficulty. Many events are timed and some are competitive. Others are more about fun and movement.

Why is it so good for your brain?

Active people are half as likely to have cognitive decline as those who don’t work out. Brain exercises like reading maps also preserve thinking and memory over time.

Orienteering pairs navigation with movement. A recent study suggests that this boosts the power of each to improve brain health. In fact, people who had orienteering experience had better spatial skills and memory than those who hadn’t tried the sport.

How can I get started?

Orienteering clubs across the country offer events and guidance for beginners. Some parks have permanent orienteering courses. Search for both through Orienteering USA

All you need is a compass, which you can often borrow on-site. Some parks offer maps online. Staff or organizers will also hand out maps at orienteering events when you arrive.

Once you have the map with checkpoints, it’s all about finding your path—and having fun along the way. Just check in at the finish line, even if you don’t finish the course, so organizers know you’re safe.


Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2024
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