Science Behind Why Going For a Walk Helps With Creativity

According to a study, going for a walk is one of the best ways to recharge your creative battery.

Some of the medical reports resulting from scientific studies have the power to dramatically challenge the way we think about the system of perceived risks and benefits related to human health which we use to order our lives.

From research which raises a red flag on commonly used drugs to government endorsement of natural drugs to address a range of medical issues, the concept of good versus bad practices, drugs and treatments is part of a dynamic and ever-changing process.

Then there are those studies which reinforce what we already know. 2014 research from two Stanford University scientists shows that there may be a reason why many of us go on a walk to clear our heads, or to avoid a rapidly escalating argument: there seems to be compelling evidence behind why it helps us think.

Research Develops from a Hunch

"Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking," said Marily Oppezzo, Stanford University behavioral and learning scientist and study co-author. "With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why."

In other words, the two set out to discover what role walking plays in the subtle details that go into the creative process. 

The Compelling Results

In all, roughly 175 participants joined the study, they compared the quality and speed of creative responses from walking versus seated respondents to questions, and the overwhelming results confirmed that 100% of the walking participants produced more creative answers.

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In order to differentiate the study, they narrowed the focus in terms of the scope of movement of the participants. Moreover, the evidence of aerobic evidence on thinking effectiveness has long been proven, so they wanted to avoid a duplication of efforts.

"Asking someone to take a 30-minute run to improve creativity at work would be an unpopular prescription for many people," Schwartz said, adding, "We wanted to see if a simple walk might lead to more free-flowing thoughts and more creativity."

In a second experiment from the same study, the two found that among 48 participants who were first all seated and then later divided into groups based on (1) sitting, (2) walking outdoors and (3) moving on the treadmill, that the second group, the researchers concluded that:

"While being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking appears to have a very specific benefit of improving creativity."

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Since that time, the research has grown into coming up with more concrete reasons behind why walking benefits the brain: 

“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 at the time of the study.

Whether we are discussing debunked myths or disproven theories, studies like this reveal a basic reality: when it comes to health, the conventional image may have its limitations, but there is some evidence so strong that research merely confirms it.

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Details about the study appear in an article, titled "Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking", and was first published in July 2014 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

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