Excercise the brain, be like Einstein!

There are now even more reasons to pull on your running trainers. What do you mean, there were never any reasons?!

OK, bear with me, what I’m talking about is the verified link between exercise and creativity. Personally I’m a big fan of both, so having the chance to preach about them in one blog post sounds good to me.

There’s been plenty of research and plenty of interest around the subject recently. Exercise, be it running, biking, weight training or a brisk walk, is said to have a positive impact on creative function. Our brains are split into two sections: the left being the analytical, problem solving side, and the right being the more holistic and imaginative side. Vigorous exercise is one of the most effective ways to mute the linear-thinking left and promote the creative, free-thinking right. When we exercise, oxygen flow to the brain is increased. The more oxygen we get to our brain, the better it works and the more freely we can think. The more freely we think, the more creative we can be.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to enter a marathon to reap the benefits. Just half an hour of aerobic exercise a few times a week will be enough to boost your creativity. The key is to find a form of exercise that you enjoy. My Granddad once said to me “find a job you enjoy doing and it’ll never feel like work.” The same can be said of exercise. For me it’s running, football or a good circuit class. In fact, getting out on a long run is second only to the toilet as my most creative space.

My experience as a creative

Last year, I ran my first (and probably last) marathon. Dragging myself out on a 20 mile weekend run was tough, but as the miles increased so did the benefits. I was able to switch off from everything, relax and think more clearly. New ideas would bubble up and I would think of solutions to that logo that wasn’t quite working, or a new headline that was more on-brand. I’d even start to run quicker, to get back and get the ideas down on paper. Win win! The training also made me far more alert during the day at work, attributed to the increased level of fitness and the fresh air – although many would argue that it wasn’t fresh air, as much of my training took place in the North East of England. The change in scenery also had an obvious positive effect on creativity too.

Hear it from a famous creative

Don’t just take my word for it, author Joyce Carol Oates, also a devoted runner, has written one of the best descriptions of how running facilitates her writing process:

Running seems to allow me, ideally, an expanded consciousness in which I can envision what I’m writing as a film or a dream. I rarely invent at the typewriter but recall what I’ve experienced. I don’t use a word processor but write in longhand, at considerable length. (Again, I know: writers are crazy.) By the time I come to type out my writing formally, I’ve envisioned it repeatedly. I’ve never thought of writing as the mere arrangement of words on the page but as the attempted embodiment of a vision: a complex of emotions, raw experience. The effort of memorable art is to evoke in the reader or spectator emotions appropriate to that effort. Running is a meditation; more practicably it allows me to scroll through, in my mind’s eye, the pages I’ve just written, proofreading for errors and improvements.

Hear it from some scientists

A publication called ‘Frontiers in Human Neuroscience’ carried out research into the subject by asking volunteers to take part in an ‘Alternative Uses Test’ – where they were invited to come up with ways a pen could be used, other than for writing, and a ‘Remote Associates Test’ where participants were asked to find a common link between three words.

Professor Colzato, of the publication, stated; “we compared the results of those who exercise at least four times a week with the results of those who don’t exercise on a regular basis. We found that people who are doing exercise on a regular basis outperform those who don’t. Physical exercise trains your brain to become more flexible in finding creative solutions.”

Hear it from THE scientist

Albert Einstein said of the theory of relativity, “I thought of it while riding my bicycle.” Surely there’s no bigger advocate than Einstein.

Dream on

On the complete flip side, dreaming is probably the most creative state of mind we experience daily. We’ve all had those moments when we wake up with an amazing idea and reach immediately for the pad and pen or iPhone next to the bed to make sure we don’t forget it. Regular exercise allows you to sleep deeper and therefore dream better. For me, regular exercise and sleeping well go hand-in-hand. Exercise well, sleep well, think well.

So, pull on your trainers, your gym kit or your cycling gear and boost your levels of creativity. For all you left side dominant folk, problems + exercise = creative solutions. Anyone for a run?

Dave Warren

Dave Warren

Creative at Milton Bayer, specialising in brand and UI design. I'm a multidisciplinary designer with a keen eye for detail and a passion for every step of the creative process.

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