When asked about his biggest fears in life, American writer Ernest Hemingway simply answered, “A blank sheet of paper.” Even creative people struggle with writer’s block, but some have a remedy for those unproductive days: a brisk walk or slow jog. A recent study out of the Netherlands concluded the positive effects of light exercise on creativity.
“Anecdotal literature suggests that creative people sometimes use bodily movement to help overcome mental blocks and lack of inspiration,” said lead researcher, Professor Lorenzo Colzato, cognitive psychologist at Leiden University.“Indeed authors such as Henry James and Thomas Mann used to walk before starting to write.”
Prof. Colzato and his colleagues oversaw “Alternative Uses Test” and “Remote Associates Test” performed by athletes and non-athletes. The “Alternative Uses Test” asked participants to consider different uses for a pen other than writing. The “Remote Associates Test” asked participants to decide on the common link between three words, Telegraph.co.uk reported.
On par with the classical theory “sound mind in a healthy body,” participants who exercised around four times a week were able to “promote the two main ingredients of creativity: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.” The “sound mind in a healthy body” idea also applies to conditions that tend to affect brain health again, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s.
“We compared the results of those who exercise at least four times a week with the results of those who don’t exercise on a regular basis,” explained Professor Colzato. “We found that people who are doing exercise on a regular basis outperform those who don’t. We think that physical exercise trains your brain to become more flexible in finding creative solutions.”
The research team did admit that the effects of exercise on creativity were not recognized over a long period of time. When the body enters back into a restful state, creativity diminishes which brings about the onset of writer’s block. Writer’s block is considered a form of anxiety by some due to symptoms such as an inability to begin a writing assignment, stress resulting from the assignment, and self-consciousness about your writing.
“We think that physical movement is good for the ability to think flexibly, but only if the body is used to being active," Professor Colzato added. “Otherwise a large part of the energy intended for creative thinking goes to the movement itself. Exercising on a regular basis may thus act as a cognitive enhancer promoting creativity in inexpensive and healthy ways.”
Szapora A, Pannekoek J, Hommel B, Colzato L. “The impact of physical exercise on convergent and divergent thinking.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2013.