Want to Boost Creativity? Get Off Your Ass and Go For a Walk

You know the saying that a walk clears the head? New research has found that a nice stroll may also fill the head.

Photograph courtesy of John Balsom.

In a study just published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Stanford University researchers say simply going for a walk boosts creative thinking by as much as 60% compared to remaining stationary with your arse planted to a chair.

For their study, researchers from the Stanford School of Education's AAALab (which, no joke, stands for Awesomely Adaptive and Advanced Learning and Behavior) tested study participants' creative thinking abilities while they walked and sat. They found that walkers scored significantly higher than sitters on tests measuring the ability to come up with as many ideas or solutions as possible to a given problem (what normal people call "brainstorming" and what academic nerds call "divergent thinking").

This effect wasn't seen only after scenic promenades across Stanford's lovely manicured campus, either. The creativity spike also showed up if subjects traipsed indoors on a treadmill with nothing more stimulating than a blank wall in front of them.

Of course, not all thinking is the same. There's brainstorming (where the goal is to produce numerous ideas, some of which are invariably good and some are not) and there's what you might call concentrated thinking (where the goal is laser-like focus on a single correct answer or solution). Researchers gauged the effects of walking and sitting on this second type of thinking—which is referred to as "convergent thinking" in science-speak—and found that walkers performed slightly worse than sitters, suggesting that too much activity may overwhelm the mind's ability to maintain a tight focus.

The takeaway: When big ideas and novel thoughts are required, walks get results. Now go tell your boss that "walking meetings" aren't bullshit after all, and you have the scientific research to prove it.

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