Exercise is a known happiness-booster and stress-reliever, so it certainly seems logical that exercise would put us into a state of mind that’s fertile for creativity. But until now, there has been little more than speculation.
But recent research has (finally) found a direct link between exercise and creativity, which supports what I think many of us have long suspected!
In this study, researchers rounded up 60 college students to participate in varying exercise regimens, all followed by a creative thinking test. The study looked at creative potential in three situations:
- Creativity immediately following NO exercise (the study control)
- Creativity immediately following a workout
- Creativity two hours after a workout
Results showed positive effects of exercise in both #2 (immediate results) and #3 (residual results) as compared with #1 (no exercise). They also found that creative potential was just as robust immediately after and two hours after exercise.
By the way, “creative output” isn’t just about your level of creativity in artistic endeavors like writing and painting. It also refers to our ability to solve problems and think outside the box—which we can all benefit from in our everyday lives.
What exercise you pick should depend on your creativity goals, however. It’s important to note that in the above mentioned study, all instances used aerobic activity.
So, if you’ve found that for you personally, anaerobic activity like strength training is a boon to creativity too, share your findings with us in the comments section!
Based on the study’s findings, immediate and residual creativity are both boosted by any type of aerobic exercise, so it doesn’t matter whether you choose, say, sports, dance, running or cycling.
On the other hand, if you’re going for a creative breakthrough on a specific challenge or question—an “aha moment”—then you might be better served by low concentration activities, other sources say. You’re less likely to have a breakthrough if you’re puffing and panting, if your activity requires strategy (like golf) or if you’re doing a team or buddy activity. So go solo, go moderate pace and go non-thinking. Cycling, walking, hiking or jogging would be more likely to let your brain go to work on the puzzle back at the office.
Even though overall creative output lasts for hours after a workout, you’ll want to capture any specific breakthroughs before you forget them, so take a voice recorder along for your workout or plan to head straight back to your desk after you exercise.
Researchers found that both one-time workouts and an ongoing exercise pattern can positively impact creativity, so fear not, weekend warriors, you’ll benefit too.
Specifically, their study measured these “out-of-the-box” creativity measures:
- Originality: being able to come up with new ideas
- Spontaneity: being flexible and able to “turn on a dime”
In an age where we’re expected to both churn out creative ideas AND multitask, it seems exercise at the workplace is just what the doctor ordered… or what the bosses should order.
So next time you’re tempted to hunker down and get through a work challenge, think twice: lost desk time pays back with increased creative output, not to mention more energy and mental alertness. (Here are a few ways to squeeze a workout into your work day.)
And finally, staying on top of a regular exercise regimen can keep your creativity flowing freely, too, so make yours “sticky”!
Have you ever had an “aha” moment while exercising? What are your go-to “thinking” exercise activities? For me, a brisk walk in the park always does the trick.