You probably already know by now that regular light walking has huge benefits, such as reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes, slowing down age-related memory decline, improving digestion, boosting mood, and lowering blood pressure. As if all that weren't enough, a recent Stanford study shows that walking at a moderate, comfortable pace of the walker's choosing results in a significant boost in creativity. Writers, artists, and musicians have often said that walking helps spur creativity; Charles Dickens, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Charles Darwin are just a few famous walkers, and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard noted, "I have walked myself into my best thoughts." Similarly, Henry David Thoreau noted, "Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Now there is evidence to back this up.
Dr. Marily Oppezzo of Stanford University recruited a group of undergraduate students and had them complete a series of creativity tests. The difference in results between walking and non-walking was significant: there was a 60% increase in creativity when students completed the test while walking at a speed of their choice on a treadmill. What's more, the answers they came up with while walking were "novel and appropriate," meaning the ideas were actually useful and viable. And the creativity continued after the participants stopped walking. After sitting down from the walk, participants produced more ideas than those who hadn't walked at all, and the ideas were "subjectively better." The study was conducted in a no-frills room at a treadmill desk facing a bare wall.
Researchers wanted to determine if outdoor walking, with nature and stimulation, might produce even more useful creative ideas, so they took the experiment outdoors. Perhaps surprisingly, the results showed that there was no difference whether the walking occurred indoors in a drab office or outdoors on a beautiful day; it is the act of walking itself that generates creativity. If you're in a job that requires creativity, this is yet another reason to get yourself a treadmill desk.
The precise reason that walking leads to increased creativity isn't completely clear, but researchers have a few ideas. Walking improves mood, and perhaps creativity flourishes more readily in a happier mind. Walking also makes the heart pump faster, so it circulates more blood and oxygen to the brain. Walking also encourages new brain cell connections and stimulates the growth of new neurons.
The more I read about the numerous and significant benefits of walking, the happier I am that I started my treadmill odyssey this year. It just keeps getting better and better!
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