In previous articles, I explored the powerful positive effects regular exercise can have on mood disorders and how it can protect your brain against dementia.
I also described how running was the catalyst for my triumph over social anxiety. Running can help you become a more self-confident, happier, and less stressed-out individual.
But running also has the potential to spark your creativity.
How? Read on to find out.
Running Is A Stress Reliever
One of the most widely accepted and most practical benefits of running is stress relief.
Are you feeling stressed at the end of a long workday? Then lace up your shoes and head out to the trails. The almost instant increase in key neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, can boost your mood again.
I find that running through nature is the best stress reliever.
When I am out in the forests, moving in solitude, I feel free. As I breathe in the fresh air, hear the birds sing, and the trees creak, my mind relaxes, and I settle into the present moment.
Here, I find new perspectives and ideas. Creative problem solving seems easier.
For me, running is a moving meditation.
Running Induces A Problem-Solving State Of Mind
Science tells us that you can easily enter a creative state when your mind is engaged but not overly taxed. When your conscious mind is relaxed, your subconscious mind can get to work and problem solve.
You might already have had instances where you were stuck on a problem at work or in your personal life, and the answer came to you while in the shower, doing laundry, or cooking.
I am not the only runner who experiences heightened creative potential out on the run.
Many creative thinkers describe the interconnection between movement and their work. The most notable book on running’s effect on writing, for example, is Haruki Murakami’s book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” He says, “most of what I know about writing fiction I learned by running every day.”
Running Changes Your Brain
In my articles about weightlifting and dementia and strength training’s effects on mental health, I described research showing how heavy lifting can lead to positive changes in your brain’s structure.
Aerobic exercise, such as running and walking, elicits similar effects.
Like strength training, running can increase the levels of “Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)”- a key growth factor for the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of your brain that is critical for long-term memory. By increasing the levels of BDNF, you can literally grow new brain cells in the hippocampus.
Hence running regularly likely leads to a better ability to retain information.
However, there’s more.
Research suggests that the hippocampus is also involved in your ability to imagine. That means your favorite aerobic activity might have a direct positive impact on your creativity by fostering the growth of new brain cells that are the source of your creative capabilities.
Studies On Aerobic Activity and Creativity Support Anecdotal Reports
While research on exercise’s effects on creativity in humans is anything but abundant, there is some.
Oppezzo and Schwartz published a study in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology” that assessed the effects of walking on creative thinking. The authors conclude that “walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly thereafter.”
What is particularly interesting about their results is that walking indoors on a treadmill had the same positive effects on creativity as walking outside. That means it was not the surroundings that stimulated the creative muscles but the act of walking.
Walking’s effects on creativity were no minor improvements either.
The authors tested several different scenarios: walking outside, walking inside, sitting after walking, and creativity while seated in different environments (without any walking). A whopping 81% – 100% of the study participants were more creative walking than sitting. The authors conclude that not the leg movement per se is responsible for the creativity boost. After all, participants experienced heightened creativity once they completed the walk and sat down again. Instead, they speculate that “biological mediators that may range from circulatory to chemical changes” cause improved ideation.
They also state that mood enhancements might be the main factor since previous research has shown that positive mood states correlate with higher creativity.
While not running-specific, my hunch is that similar studies on running would yield similar results. I didn’t come across relevant research yet, so please let me know if you know of any 😉
Most people start an exercise regimen because they want to lose weight or get healthy. But what if the medical field and our education system would acknowledge and promote exercise’s mental health benefits much more?
Running might just be the only stress-relieving, memory-boosting, and creativity-enhancing “super drug” you need.