Creativity Boost

Words: Johnny WOOD

If jogging, cycling, or brisk walks, are an essential part of our daily routine, could we be better off thinking outside of the box than our couch-loving friends, or neighbours?

The link between physical exercise and improved health — in both body and mind — is long-established, but an active lifestyle also makes you more creative, as scientists have found.

Researchers at Austria’s University of Graz analysed the impact of regular exercise on the human imagination and found a clear relationship between healthy lifestyles, positive mood and innovative thinking. In general, more active meant more creative — but why?

Boosting Creativity Levels

A group of 79 adults aged between 18 and 33 years were studied over a five-day period, their ‘everyday bodily movement’ was recorded, and participants completed a series of invention tests to assess their creativity levels, while also self-reporting their moods.

While the physical reaction of exercise on bodily health can be directly measured, the link between active lifestyles and creativity is more abstract.

One theory proposes that the endorphins, increased blood flow and other physical attributes of regular exercise produce a happiness boost, which helps fuel original, or abstract, thoughts. To test this notion, Graz scientists applied their results to statistical data from other studies to increase the sample group and isolate which factors could have influenced performance.

Study participants with active lifestyles proved more creative than those with more sedentary habits, the researchers noted in Nature: Scientific Reports, but extremely vigorous exercise performed no better than moderate exercise in boosting creativity levels. Active participants, although more creative, were not always happier than their inactive peers, suggesting that movement rather than happiness was the catalyst for being more creative.

Because the study was ‘associational, the New York Times points out that it cannot tell us “if being more active directly causes us to be more creative” — but, it does at least prove that “activity and creativity are linked.”

Tackling Mental Health

As well as making our creativity flow more freely, regular exercise can stimulate the brain to help prevent, or tackle, mental health conditions.

Getting out and about on runs, walks, or other regular physical pursuits decreases the risk of both dementia and bouts of depression among the UK population by 30 per cent, as figures for 2017 suggest.

A US study of 1.2 million people over a four-year period found that regular exercise reduced the number of days per month of poor mental health by more than 43 per cent, compared with people with similar characteristics that didn’t exercise. All exercise types were found to reduce the mental health burden on participants, with the highest reductions attributed to regular participation in team sports, cycling and aerobic activities.

About 264 million people are affected by depression around the world [more women than men], according to World Health Organisation estimates. That’s almost 3.5 per cent of the global population.

The importance of the early prevention of mental health issues in young people was emphasised in the World Economic Forum’s report, A Global Framework for Youth Mental Health.

Exercise offers a way to reduce the mental health burden on individuals and also considerable healthcare costs associated with treating mental health issues.

JOHNNY WOOD is a Senior Writer, Formative Content, World Economic Forum. This article was first published in World Economic Forum under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone — not the World Economic Forum.

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