Need some new ideas? Take a hike. Seriously, new research from Stanford University shows that walking increases creative inspiration by about 60 percent compared to coming up with good ideas while sitting. You don’t even have to go outdoors. The research team found that walking on a treadmill is just as effective, creativity-wise. What’s more, returning to your desk (or couch) doesn’t immediately turn off the flow of inspiration stimulated by your walk, the Stanford study found. However, the researchers reported that there were some limits to the benefits of walking – for example, they found that while a stroll improved creative thinking, it didn’t necessarily help study participants (176 college students and other adults) come up with the right answers to questions aimed at provoking "focused thinking." Three of the other study experiments were designed to measure “divergent thinking.” Here, the students were given four minutes to come up with alternate uses for an object – their answers were considered novel (i.e. creative) when students came up with an answer no one else suggested.
My take? These are interesting findings. I’m an advocate for anything that gets people up and moving – if inspiration doesn’t strike, at least you’ll benefit from some exercise. I’ve also read that taking a short nap can help boost creativity in addition to bolstering emotional and procedural memory. Maybe a walk works – even if you’re on a treadmill – simply because it allows you to disengage from your usual surroundings. The Stanford researchers haven’t yet looked into the causal mechanisms that trigger creativity when you’re walking and may focus future research on whether other forms of physical activity have similar results.
Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036577