Walk Your Way to Creativity

If you've been fruitlessly spinning your creative wheels you might want to take a cue from Stanford University researchers and try getting out on your feet instead.

Elise Craig

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Working on a creative project? You might want to start by going for a walk. Research out of Stanford University has found that people who walk instead of sitting or being pushed in a wheelchair score more highly on tests that measure creative thinking.

Earlier studies have shown that aerobic exercise may protect cognitive abilities, but researchers Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz wanted to see if walking could help encourage particular kinds of thinking. They conducted creativity studies with 176 people, asking them to do things like name another use for a particular object, play word association games, or come up with analogies. In their experiments, they found that at least 81 percent of those who were walking as they completed tasks came up with more creative ideas than the sitters; in one experiment, 100 percent of walkers performed better than those who sat.

To make sure that practice from earlier tests didn’t contribute to creative thinking in later tests, Oppezzo and Schwartz had one group of student participants perform a set of tasks while walking, then had them sit for a second set of tests. They found that the participants didn’t perform as well while sitting, but they did perform better than participants who had remained seated for both tests, indicating that their could be residual effects from walking.

“[Our] research showed that for the eight minutes after the walk, people were more creative than those who never walked,” Oppezzo says. “Whether this extends to an hour or the whole day, we do not know. But walking to work and thinking about solutions to different problems at work seems like a great prescription.” But walking didn’t help all kinds of thinking. Walkers performed slightly worse than sitters when they were asked to give one-word answers.

“This study implies that a treadmill desk would be useful for those tasks that require creative thinking or analogy generation- maybe thinking of things from a different perspective,” she says.

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