Exercise boosts creative thinking of all kinds.
- Michael, a corporate attorney, solves his complicated work problems while swimming.
- Todd, who manages PR for a large communications firm, likes to have one-on-one meetings with his direct reports at the company gym.
- And Lyndsey, a photographer, cleared her head to open her own business while lifting weights and sparring in the gym.
There’s also a growing body of scientific studies that make the connection between exercise and creative thinking. Walking is a good starting point, as great thinkers like Aristotle, Nietzsche and Thoreau observed. But strength training and balance work are essential, particularly after 50.
‘Walking Opens Up the Free Flow of Ideas’
For example, in one study experts found participants who walked more saw an 81 percent rise in creative thinking on a key scale to measure divergent and convergent thinking, the two main components of creative thinking. One refers to our ability to think of multiple solutions to a problem, the other to thinking of just one.
“Moreover, when seated after walking, participants exhibited a residual creative boost,” wrote Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford. The benefits come whether you’re walking indoors or outside, they said. “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.”
Beyond walking, our brains get juiced by bicycling, yoga, weightlifting – whatever exercise we choose. And people who are in good shape get even more benefits, research shows.
“Those who exercise regularly are better at creative thinking… Regular exercisers fared better on creativity tests than did non-exercisers,” wrote cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato.
Exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, which plays a major role in learning, and improves memory.
Healthy Habits Are Good for Everyone
“Creativity” doesn’t apply just to artists or other “creative” types. It refers to thinking freely – “outside the box,” as the saying goes – to find solutions to problems.
When we were younger, maybe it was easier to pull an all-nighter, or dredge up creative bursts by sheer will when forced under a deadline.
But that only works for so long. And as we age, we need more reliable ways to keep our creativity flowing. That means more than just exercise. We need to eat right and get plenty of rest, and replenish our mind and spirit with friends, family, art, community and spiritual pursuits.
Creativity is key to success in any kind of endeavor. And exercise can help you — any kind of it.
Try it out. Next time you’re turning over something in your mind, go for a walk and see if your mind doesn’t start generating some new ideas.
Starting with a walk is fine. But come let us show you the power of more kinds of movement for people over 50. Some people find yoga unleashes their subconscious problem-solving abilities. For others, lifting heavy weight gets the mental juices flowing.
Free your body, and the rest will follow.
Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.