Friday, September 01, 2006

Exercise Makes You Creative

Often during my daily walk, even if I'm now stuck walking inside these days due to all the rain, I find my mind wandering. Sometimes it is silly stuff like imagining I'm on the Ellen DeGeneres show promoting my new novel, which of course is wildly successful. But most often I've got something on my mind that needs figuring out. For example, maybe I'm thinking about the next section of my dissertation that I need to tackle. Or, I might have a jewelry design I'm working on. Repetitive excercise like walking or riding my bike always gets my creative juices flowing, and it looks like I'm not alone according to this article from the Kansas City Star:

Fitness buffs of all professions have long known that the best way to unlock creativity is to go for a bike ride, run or swim.

Now science is proving that eureka moments during exercise are more than anecdote.

Stephen Ramocki, a marketing professor at Rhode Island College, found that a single aerobic workout is enough to kick the brains of college students into higher gear — and that the benefit lasts at least a couple of hours. To function optimally, each person’s brain needs a physically fit body, Ramocki says.

Creativity tends to be the result of a two-stage process, says R. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

The first stage is data gathering. That’s when you’re working hard to bone up on background material that you’ll need to solve your problem. But the moment of insight tends to come when, having worked hard, you take time off for a change of pace.

Perhaps that’s because during the preparation stage, the mind is so narrowly focused that it ignores random-seeming associations percolating in the subconscious. Yet creativity is, by definition, the process of making unexpected leaps.

When you’re deliberately working on a problem, such thoughts seem like distractions, so you tune them out. To free up the mind, Sawyer says, creative people tend to schedule “idle time” in which to do something completely different, such as listening to music or taking a bike ride.

There you go - yet another excuse to exercise regularly.

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