Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get some form of exercise. When I’m not traveling, I’ll find time for one of my three go-to recreations: mountain biking, tennis, standup paddle boarding. When I travel, I’ll fall back on my “3P” minimal, natural bodyweight workout: pushups, pull-ups, and planks.
And I often get some fairly creative thinking in, especially during a mountain bike ride or a quiet standup paddle board circuit around the lake I live near. It’s a form of taking a break for me…an application of the 5th law of subtraction (break is the important part of breakthrough).
Now, there’s some new science that says the actual activity of exercise spurs creativity.
Lorenza Colato, a cognitive psychologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, claims people who exercise regularly are better at creative thinking. Her conclusion is published in a Frontiers in Human Neuroscience article.
Her research set out to answer a simple, single question: is it possible to prove scientifically that physical exercise makes creative thinking easier?
To find this out, Colzato investigated whether regular exercise may promote the two main ingredients of creativity: divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking means to think up as many solutions as possible for a certain problem. Convergent thinking leads to one single correct solution for a given problem.
Thinking tasks were given to two study groups: people who do physical exercise– in this case, cycling–at least four times a week, and people who do not exercise on a regular basis. The first assignment was the common “alternate uses” test. You know the one: you’re given a few minutes to write down all the possible uses for an everyday item, like a box or a pen.
This was followed by another common test, called “remote associates.” You’ve seen or done this I’m sure: you’re presented with three non-related words, like time, hair, and stretch, and have to come up with the common link. (In this example, the word is long.)
On the remote associates test, people from the group of frequent exercisers appeared to outperform those who did not exercise regularly.
“We think that physical movement is good for the ability to think flexibly,” concludes Colzato, “but only if the body is used to being active. Otherwise a large part of the energy intended for creative thinking goes to the movement itself. Exercising on a regular basis may thus act as a cognitive enhancer promoting creativity in inexpensive and healthy ways.”
So, instead of sending your team to sit in a room and brainstorm, which we know to be less than effective, get them exercising regularly!