I never knew why it happened, but I knew that it did happen: I conceived of more new ideas, or found clarity or solutions for conundrums while exercising. Most specifically, while immersed in the monotony of cardio-on a stationary bike or an elliptical. (Not on a treadmill, where I’m focused on trying not to stumble and break my neck.)
As I pumped away, lost in the repetitive motions, I came up with ideas for articles, films, new products, services or even whole new enterprises. Or suddenly that problem at home or work or wherever didn’t seem so unsolvable.
Well, now it can be explained-sort of. Turns out even just the act of walking boosts the brain’s creative juices and ability to problem solve, according to a new study.
In this month’s Journal of Experimental Psychology, Stanford University researchers Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz reveal the results of their study, which demonstrated that walking “substantially enhanced creativity” and that people people are “more creative walking than sitting.”
The 40 adult participants in the study were divided into four groups: Those who sat; those who walked indoors and outdoors; those who sat then walked; and those who walked then sat. The groups were also administered two widely accepted tests of creativity and problem solving.
Ultimately, the three “walking groups” tested 81%-100% higher than those in the sedentary group.
Why? Well, here’s where it gets a bit dicey. Here, the researchers relied on other studies, typically done in laps, regarding the effects of activity on the brain. Some studies found that increasing activity stimulated neural connectivity and plasticity in some parts of the brain-among them, the hippocampus, which affects memory and learning.
The researchers also summarized simply that walking and other forms of exercise make you happier, and that happier people are more creative and open to finding solutions.
So the next time you’re “stuck” and unable to find an idea, take a walk.
If you’re at your desk and frustrated over a workplace dilemma, get up and go for a walk.
If your department is struggling to solve a challenge in a way that is amenable to all, take a walk.
Who knows? It could be the first “step” towards your best idea ever.