Stuck in a creative rut? Go for a stroll!

Stuck in a creative rut? Go for a stroll!

For anyone in a creative slump, there may be a better place than hunched over your keyboard waiting for inspiration. According to one new study, a quick stroll could ignite your mind.

The study, published this week in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, proves what many have long thought—that walking away and giving your legs a stretch is the quickest way to get the inspiration you need.

“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking,” said Marily Oppezzo, PhD, of Santa Clara University, coauthor of the study, in a statement. “With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why.”

To prove their theory, the researchers conducted studies with 176 adults, mostly college students, testing their creative responses to a series of questions while walking, sitting at a desk or being pushed in a wheelchair. They found that those who walked consistently provided more creative responses, such as thinking of alternate uses for common objects, such as a tire or a button, or creating original analogies for complex ideas.

For one experiment, participants were sat alone in a small room at a desk, then the researcher named an object, for which the participant was to name an alternative use. For example, alternative uses for a button might be a doorknob for a dollhouse or an eye for a doll, Dr. Oppezzo says. The creativity of the response was based on the appropriateness of the object’s use and its originality—no one else in the study could have named the same use.

However, when it came down to solving problems with a single, less complex answer, the walkers lagged behind the sitters, the researchers found.

According to the researchers, this was the first study of its kind to show the benefits of simple walking on the creative process. In one experiment, the researchers found participants had 81 percent more creative output when walking on a treadmill then sitting at a desk. And they found the walkers to be more talkative than the sitters.

It didn’t matter if the walkers were inside or out, the researchers found. “While being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking appears to have a very specific benefit of improving creativity,” Dr. Oppezzo says.

Dr. Joanne May, director of outpatient behavioral services at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, says physicians and therapists have long known that aerobic activity activates the brain’s neurotransmitters, which greatly influence both mood and behavior.

“It’s exciting to have additional research data that we can influence the quality and density of creative thought by something so easily under an individual’s control,” Dr. May says. “We’ve known for some time that activity can help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety and help those who grapple with a sleep disorder. Perhaps there’s a complex pathway whereby the physical act of walking leads to physiological changes in the brain’s ability to generate creative thoughts.”

She says studies like this one that link healthy activity to a definite health benefit, such as overeating or anxiety reduction, is helpful to the public, because it provides an easy way to take increased control of our busy lives.

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  1. Lisa Parro

    I do this all the time. I think of my best ideas walking to and from the bathroom.

  2. I totally believe this! I find it so helpful to just walk away from my desk sometimes and then get back to writing.

  3. I totally agree! I find walking away from a project for a few minutes helps me collect my thoughts and I can come back with a clear head.

    • Julie Nakis

      Ditto! If I stare at something for too long then I hit a wall. Taking a walk usually always clears my head.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.