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How Movement Boosts Creativity

Looking for inspiration? Science now suggests you won’t find it sat staring at a blank page. We explore the link between exercise and creativity.

 

Friedrich Nietzsche was a vocal advocate. Steve Jobs was a fan. Arianna Huffington practices it daily. Haruki Murakami even wrote a book about it. Throughout history, some of the world’s best-known thinkers and entrepreneurs have used movement to stimulate creativity. 

 

As Murakami puts it in his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, “physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.” Yet many of us who are focused on being creative at work, use this very work as a reason not to exercise. So can sacrificing some precious desk time for movement really improve creative results overall?

     

 

What the science says


That exercise can benefit the mind, relieving stress for example, is widely recognized. In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey digs deeper into how the benefits of exercise extend far beyond physical performance. Ratey discusses the impact of movement on the chemistry and physiology of the brain. He highlights that exercise can increase neuroplasticity – the ability to create new neural connections. This appears to be the link to enhancements in your mood and decision-making capabilities, but what about creativity specifically? 


 

Research on the link between movement and creativity largely focuses on aerobic activity (like running) or anaerobic activity (like sprinting). Studies have shown that aerobic exercise can increase the speed of concurrent cognition (multitasking), and that an intense workout can improve memory performance, and potentially creativity, for some time afterwards – good news if you like your lunch runs fast. 


 

Perhaps even better news is that it doesn’t take an all-out run to help get the creative juices flowing. Nietzsche once said that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking,” an assertion that’s now supported by science. 


 

In the brilliantly titled paper, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford University used four varying methods to assess the impact of walking on creativity. Their results showed a link between movement and improved creativity each time, both during exercise and shortly after. Whether done outdoor or indoor, they conclude that “walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” 


 

 

Experience the benefits


 

So the science backs up claims made by some of the world’s brightest thinkers – movement means new ideas, whether it’s running or walking. Here’s three ways to make the most of this insight: 


 

Head for the door

The best way to start thinking outside of the box is getting out of your box-shaped office building or apartment and into the outdoors. Moving in the fresh air means fresh perspectives and switches our brains on for new stimuli. By getting outside for a regular run or walk, we don’t only get the aforementioned creativity boost from movement, but also see and hear new things, meet new people and watch how others interact. As Steve Jobs said, “The broader our understanding of human experience, the more dots we will have to connect, the more creative our ideas will be.”


 

Hold meetings on the move

On average, Americans sit for 10 hours a day. For many of us, much of that time is spent at work. While some desk time is needed to get things done, transitioning meetings from the office to the outdoors is a way to gain the health- and creativity-boosting benefits of getting on our feet. 


 

Walking meetings are another creativity hack that Steve Jobs endorsed, and it’s supported by the previously mentioned Stanford study too. One experiment found that you were twice as likely to come up with a creative solution while moving than you are sat down. 


 

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is another believer, saying in a post that “In addition to the obvious fitness benefits, this meeting format essentially eliminates distractions, so I find it to be a much more productive way to spend time.” Virgin's Richard Branson also wrote a blog post extolling the benefits and it’s rumored that Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp was brokered during several walking meetings between Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum. It seems walking the talk is kind of a big deal. 

 
 

Make sure you’re always ready to go

Often, creative ideas and solutions are needed fast. Choosing all-day shoes that can perform whenever needed removes barriers to movement. That’s the inspiration behind the design of the Cloud Terry. Fusing urban design for every day with performance running shoe technology, it’s Swiss-engineered so you’re always ready to go. Which makes movement an instant idea-boosting option that’s always open. 

   
 

The benefits of moving more are well established, but the impact of exercise on creativity are just coming to light. Don’t wait around for your next big idea – get after it.  

 

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