Walking Increases Creativity“How can I get my creativity back?”

One of my patients, who has been wrestling with depression for quite a while, asked me if I could think of anything that might help give her creativity a boost.

My quick, off the cuff, reply was “go running again” (she was an avid runner before she got depressed), in part because of the clear evidence that aerobic exercise enhances cognitive function generally.

Later I thought I would do some searching in the UCSF library to see if I could find evidence based recommendations.

Imagine my surprise when the first article I ran across was all about how walking outdoors could have this effect.

“Four experiments demonstrate that walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after.

  • In Experiment 1, while seated and then when walking on a treadmill, adults completed Guilford’s alternate uses (GAU) test of creative divergent thinking … Walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity on the GAU…
  • In Experiment 2, participants completed the GAU when seated and then walking, when walking and then seated, or when seated twice. Again, walking led to higher GAU scores. Moreover, when seated after walking, participants exhibited a residual creative boost.
  • Experiment 3 generalized the prior effects to outdoor walking.
  • Experiment 4 tested the effect of walking on creative analogy generation. Participants sat inside, walked on a treadmill inside, walked outside, or were rolled outside in a wheelchair. Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies. The effects of outdoor stimulation and walking were separable.

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.”

References

Oppezzo M, Schwartz DL. Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014 Jul;40(4):1142-52. doi: 10.1037/a0036577. Epub 2014 Apr 21. PubMed PMID: 24749966.

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