The Importance of Exercise to Creativity I Oxford Open Learning
Survival of the fittest

The Importance of Exercise to Creativity

Having previously considered the necessity for creativity in all its forms in life and learning (here) and having looked at different styles of journaling for creativity (here), I now consider the ways that exercise can nurture and enhance our creative soul, alongside keeping our minds and bodies healthy.

Exercise and Flow

A 2014 study at Stamford University focused on the creativity gains that were evident from a practice of walking and thinking over sitting and thinking. The type of exercise focused on in this study was not the high intensity push of a workout but more of a relaxed, peaceful perambulation. Such a state provides opportunity for the mind to find free flow, and the unconscious collision of seemingly disparate ideas to become a creative masterpiece on its blank canvas. Stamford found there was an increase in the individual’s capacity for creative thought not only in motion but also for a period of time following their return to a resting state.

The active nature of creativity has long been what drives all sorts of artists out of their armchairs, making them move their minds and grounding them in their physical bodies to experience whatever sort of motion works for them.

Haruki Murakami, the Japanese novelist, has long spoken of his love for running as an opportunity for him to reach a sort of mesmerised, semi-meditative state. When interviewed in Runners World in 2005 he said, “I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometimes. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing. However, in general, I try to get my mind relaxed and rested while running by not thinking about anything. I run to cool down my nerves that get heated up while writing.”

Creativity Follows Motion

The need to ‘do’ anything other than simply move can seem at odds with the usual human drive to push forward and to ‘actively’ engage in a process. In this case the only necessity is motion, and creativity will follow. It may come at completely indeterminate, unbidden times, but it is as a matter of course.

The fact that motion-led creativity exists outside our conscious control can feel unsettling, but you should get past this mental bump-in-the-road and relax into the physicality of the moment – let the mind be free to wander. After all, the opportunities that creating this blank space for ‘The Muse’ of creativity to arrive and lay down those bountiful gifts are more than worth your effort.

So, get out and exercise. Block out time in your diary for a consistent daily practice of running, walking, or dancing and reap the creative and physical rewards of doing so. Who knows what art, what novel, what scientific discovery will be triggered as a result of keeping fit and active in both body and mind.

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