Creative people have known for centuries that going for a walk can undo the knots in their thinking and help spur those ideas that seem unreachable when sitting down. Most of those people, though, didn’t have the internet or texting.
While taking a stroll through the woods may have been necessary for the geniuses of the past, many of us spend our days in a cramped city and don’t see how walking past Starbucks and Panera Bread will exactly get our inspired juices flowing. But it’s becoming harder to deny how vital a simple walk can be to kick your creativity into gear, especially after last year’s study from Stanford.
Nearly 200 students and adults were asked to perform one of four different tasks: sitting and staring at a blank wall, walking on a treadmill and staring at a blank wall, walking around a path on campus or being pushed around that path in a wheelchair. They were then given tests that measure creative thinking.
And there was no question that those who walked, both indoors and outdoors, were more creative than their sitting counterparts. Yes, even staring at a blank wall and moving your legs helped people come up with more innovative ideas. That’s why it’s so important to maintain your body, it leads to a more sound mind.
Now, there is a catch — walking, like drinking, may help generate creative ideas, but it’s not great for focus. In fact, that syncs with many other studies that show distraction and even fatigue can help us be more creative, because our brains are filtering out less data and we’re being bombarded with new thoughts.
This New Yorker article goes far deeper into what walking does to our brains, and links to other studies that show a hike in the mountains may help with certain thinking while sauntering through Times Square can be better for other kinds. Writes author Ferris Jabr, “Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.”
But what’s most important is the body of research that shows trying to crack that creative nut is probably going to happen quicker even if you’re simply pacing in a room, rather than slumping in your chair and browsing websites or messing with whatever new app you just downloaded. “The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa,” Jabr notes.
It’s no wonder Rodin’s The Thinker has been there so long — he’d probably figure out the answer if he just stood up and stretched his legs.
Check out Maintaining Your Body with Kelly Starrett and get his proven steps to getting (and staying) physically fit.