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Walk your way to creativity

May 16, 2014—Going for a walk can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, make weight control easier and generally improve your physical well-being. But the benefits don’t end there. Walking also opens the mind to more creative thinking.

That’s what researchers found after conducting a series of experiments at Stanford. Their results were published in April in a journal produced by the American Psychological Association.

“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking,” said researcher Marily Oppezzo, PhD. “With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why.”

Previous studies have focused on sustained aerobic exercise and creativity. This study is different, as it didn’t require participants to do strenuous activities like running. But, the results were striking, and they could motivate some people to incorporate a walk into their day-to-day life.

About the study

Researchers divided 176 people, many of them college psychology students, into various groups and gave them tests commonly used to evaluate creative thinking.

One test asked participants to come up with alternate uses for common objects. For example, a participant given the word button may suggest a novel and appropriate alternative like “a doorknob for a dollhouse.”

In another test—this one designed to gauge insight—participants were given three words, like cottageSwiss and cake, and they were asked to provide a single word that combines all three. In this case, the answer is cheese.

Study participants were tested in a variety of contexts. Some answered questions while facing a blank wall and then again while walking on a treadmill. Some walked first and then sat. Some sat for both sessions, either in the same room or after moving to a different room. Some walked outside. Others sat outside while being pushed in a wheelchair.

After evaluating all the variables, researchers said walking almost invariably increased creativity. For instance, while walking, participants had between 81 and 100 percent more creative ideas compared to creative responses given while sitting.

“Walking worked indoors on a treadmill and outdoors at a bustling university,” the researchers wrote.

In addition, people who were tested first while walking and then again while sitting were more creative than people who sat for both tests. “Practically, taking a walk immediately before a brainstorming session should help improve one’s performance,” the study said.

You can read the full report here.

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