(NaturalHealth365) If your creative juices just aren’t flowing, take a hike! Although many people claim to do their “best thinking” while walking, this piece of conventional wisdom has never before been subjected to scientific scrutiny.
Now, new and intriguing research published by the American Psychological Association shows that is indeed true, particularly in relation to free-flowing creative thought.
Walking causes improvements in creative thinking
In a recent study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, researchers found that simple walking – as opposed to sitting at a desk or being pushed in a wheelchair down an outdoor path – helped college students score higher on tests used to measure creative thinking, both in real time and shortly thereafter.
The study involved 176 college students – who variously sat in a windowless room with blank walls, walked a treadmill in that same room, walked outside or were pushed in wheelchairs outdoors – then given a battery of tests to measure cognition. The many different versions of the tests and locations – sitting before walking, and vice versa – were to rule out the possibility that students were becoming better at creative responses simply from “practice” and growing familiarity with the tests.
One test, the Guilford Alternate Uses test, measures levels of creative divergent thinking by asking volunteers to think of alternate uses for everyday objects – for instance, a button functioning as a tiny doorknob in a dollhouse. The Compound Remote Associates test – a word association test which requires thinking of a theme that unites three different concepts – measures convergent thinking. For example, in the trio “Swiss, cottage and cake,” the answer is “cheese.” Participants were also asked to come up with original analogies to capture complex ideas.
Results pointed overwhelmingly to enhanced creative thought for walkers
In every test, walking – whether on a treadmill or outside – led to higher GAU scores, and walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies and the most novel ideas. In one experiment, 100 percent of the students came up with more creative ideas while walking as opposed to sitting. Other experiments showed that 81, 88 and 95 percent of the volunteers thought more creatively while walking.
The average overall increase in creative thinking after walking was 60 percent.
Interestingly, while the act of walking definitely enhanced creative thinking, it wasn’t as effective with questions that required focused concentration and a single answer; walkers lagged slightly behind sitters on CRA scores.
Beneficial effects of walking remain after the walk is over
The students’ thought processes were analyzed as they sat for two versions of the test, walked during the two sets of tests, and walked and then sat for the tests. Volunteers came up with fewer novel ideas when they sat for the second test after walking for the first, but still did better than those who had sat for both tests, showing that there is a residual effect of walking.
Walking is practical, safe and easy to perform
While past studies have supported the ability of regular aerobic exercise to promote cognitive abilities – researchers report that running, as well as anaerobic sprinting, can increase cognition speed and improve memory performance – these forms of exercise aren’t practical or desirable for everyone. The new study is the first to measure the effects of isolated, one-time walks, which for many people are more easily achievable.
A natural setting, plus walking, equals a jackpot of health benefits
In this study, researchers didn’t focus on the beneficial effects of being outside; their goal was to examine how the simple physical activity of walking affects cognition.
But walking outdoors – particularly in an environment that is “green and serene,” can afford significant physical benefits.
In October of 2013, ScienceDaily cited reported that Japanese scientists had found that forest walking lowers pulse rate, blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while raising levels of disease-fighting white blood cells.
And a 2003 study published in Journal of Environmental Psychology showed that walking in nature, as compared with an urban environment, restored previously exhausted attentional abilities and caused enhanced performance on difficult tasks post-walk.
In addition, walking in a natural setting lowered blood pressure and reduced stress more effectively than walking in urban surroundings. Walking outside also promoted social communication by increasing the tendency to talk to others.
Next, researchers are eager to discover the pathway in the body that links the physical act of walking with the physiological changes that occur in order to enhance cognitive control of imagination. But we don’t need to know the exact mechanisms responsible in order to know that when it comes to enhancing creativity, walking is powerful medicine.
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