You're sitting in your office, whether at work or at home. You are staring blankly at your computer screen just hoping that a brilliant idea will suddenly come to you. Instead, you end up sitting at your desk for hours trying to force your brain to think creatively. We've all been there, and researchers have found a very simple solution to our problems. Just go for a walk.
“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking,” said Marily Oppezzo, PhD, of Santa Clara University. “With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why.”
Oppezza and her colleague Daniel L. Schwartz, PhD, conducted their research while attending Stanford University's Graduate School of Education. The study involved 176, most of whom were college students. Those who walked over sitting or being pushed in a wheelchair gave more creative responses on tests used to measure creative thinking. However, when it came to solving problems with single answers, those who responded while sitting performed better.
There have been previous studies which have shown how aerobic exercise can help cognitive abilities, but Oppezzo and Schwartz wanted to determine if simply walking can temporarily improve certain types of thinking.
“Asking someone to take a 30-minute run to improve creativity at work would be an unpopular prescription for many people,” Schwartz said. “We wanted to see if a simple walk might lead to more free-flowing thoughts and more creativity.”
Even taking a walk indoors will help your creativity. The researchers experimented with a group of participants who walked on a treadmill indoors. They continued to provide more creative responses in comparison to those who were sitting inside or being pushed in a wheelchair outside.
“While being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking appears to have a very specific benefit of improving creativity,” said Oppezzo.
The researchers say more studies will be needed to explain the relationship between walking and changes to cognitive control. However, workers should still consider ways to incorporate walking into their workdays.
“Incorporating physical activity into our lives is not only beneficial for our hearts but our brains as well. This research suggests an easy and productive way to weave it into certain work activities,” Oppezzo said.