The Key to Creativity? Movement
Creativity is at risk of becoming a victim of the pandemic.
Several recent studies have shown that the loss of didactic conversations – instructional talks that usually happen between meetings and are where many inventive new ideas begin – is having a negative effect on workplace idea generation.
Creativity, however, can be salvaged in other ways, though, including something as basic as stepping away from the laptop and going for a walk.
Researchers in Austria have published a study that shows a link between active lifestyles and increased creativity. Using a group of test subjects, the University of Graz looked at how regular exercise might impact human imagination.
What they found was the level of people’s creativity is often tied to how active they are.
“Total creative performance showed significant positive associations with time spent in moderate [exercise] (e.g., walking) and a negative association with movements of no to light intensity (e.g., sitting and lying),” the study said.
The good news for creative types that aren’t physically-prone is you don’t need to run a marathon or take an advanced Peloton class to spark creative energy. Basically, any sort of movement – whether it’s a walk around the block, gardening or washing your car - can get creative juices flowing.
“A more detailed examination of bodily movement (i.e., categorization into different intensity levels) indicated that not only time spent with activities of high intensity, like sport and bouts of exercise, go along with increased creative performance, but also everyday physical activities of a moderate intensity level,” said the report.
There has, of course, been anecdotal evidence for some time that movement can ‘unclog’ your brain. Stuck on a project or suffering from writer’s block? A quick lap or two around the office was sometimes all you needed to get back on track.
The researchers on this study examined 79 individuals between the ages of 18 and 33 over a five-day period. The subjects’ “everyday body movement” was recorded and they were given a series of invention tests, which assessed creativity levels. (The test subjects were also asked to rank their own moods.)
Theorizing that good moods might also enhance creativity, the scientists cross-checked the creative output with the mood rankings. What they found was there wasn’t a solid link between the two. The most creative people were regularly the ones who were most active.
Movement, of course, has benefits far beyond creativity. Regular exercise can help manage one’s weight, reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and strengthen bones. Just as importantly – perhaps even more so in a pandemic – exercise can ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety, as endorphins and other brain chemicals promote a sense of happiness and well-being.
This isn’t the first study to examine the effects of exercise on creativity. A 2014 research paper tied exercise and innovation together, asking volunteers to complete a task when sitting at a desk and walking on a treadmill. Virtually all of the better ideas came when people were walking. A 1997 study found the same results.
The University of Graz researchers do note that their study is not inarguable. It could be that inherent creativity leads people to move more and, in some cases, promotes an overall sense of happiness, they concede. And the sample size of the subjects was relatively small. But they note that the findings certainly back up common notions about the benefits of movement and point strongly to a link between activity and creativity.
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