The Benefits of Exercise on Creativity

ThinkstockPhotos-122576150-889961-edited.jpgWe’ve all been there – you wake up ready to take on the day and sip your morning coffee while listening to some upbeat jazz music. You’re feeling pretty good. As your day progresses, you hit the afternoon slump – or worse, dare I say it, the morning slump. Regardless of your line of work, this can be debilitating to your creativity, not to mention your mindset and motivation.

First things first: what is creativity, exactly?

Here’s what Merriam-Webster says…

creativity | noun | the ability to make new things or think of new ideas

Of course, “creativity” can mean different things to different people. To me, creativity is the process of coming up with new ideas and the ability to think outside the box, but I think it also includes taking something that already exists and adding flair and uniqueness to it. While it can mean different things, it also is found in many situations, from work to your personal life and everywhere in between.

That new way you taught your daughter to tie her shoes? Creative.

The way you defused a sticky situation with a customer? Also creative.

The route you took to maneuver around the traffic jam this morning? You guessed it… creative.

Everyone has the opportunity to be creative, but unfortunately, “desk jobs” are the norm nowadays for many people whose jobs require a daily boost of creativity – from marketers, writers, and bloggers to artists, designers, professors, and architects.

A desk job usually means you’re sitting for extended periods of time throughout the day, unless you’re a lucky standing-desk-user. Some even “work through lunch” to supposedly get more done and leave work earlier at the end of the day. Doing this might seem like a good idea, but the reality is, it actually hinders your creativity – not to mention, it’s unhealthy.

Research has found that exercising on a regular basis, especially walking or some other type of aerobic exercise, can help foster creativity. According to technology consultant, Nilofer Merchant,

“Walking meetings not only liberate the butt, they liberate the creative juices.”

A study recently conducted at Stanford found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and during the short time after they return. Similarly, researchers from another study noted that regular exercise is associated with improved divergent and convergent thinking, two major components of creative thinking.

During this study, a person’s creative output increased 60% when they were walking, as opposed to sitting. Forward-thinking Steve Jobs was famous for his “walking meetings,” a Silicon Valley tradition that Mark Zuckerberg has continued.

So, if it works, why not take advantage of it? In addition to walking meetings, there are exercises you can do at your desk – creatively named “deskercises” – as well as some you can do around the office and lunch time exercise outings you can take, either solo or with a group of your coworkers.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

“Deskercises will make me look ridiculous!”

or maybe,

“Gross, I’m going to get all sweaty in the middle of my work day.”

Fear not – you don’t have to be dripping in sweat to reap the creative benefits of exercising at work, and there are at least a few deskercises you can do without getting weird looks from your coworkers. Here’s a list of 10 things you can do to stay active while you’re working: 

1) Deskercise: The Swivel

It’s good for your core – as long as you have a swiveling desk chair. Keep your back straight, put your fingertips on the edge of your desk, lift your feet up, and twist your chair from side to side.

2) Deskercise: Make ‘Em Touch

Find yourself hunching over? Sit up straight enough that your shoulder blades meet in the middle of your back (I’ll bet at least half of you sat up straighter as you read that sentence). If you can’t stay sitting like that for very long, change it into a 10-second squeeze exercise. Push your shoulder blades together and hold for 10 seconds, then release and repeat. You’ll have the best posture in the office, guaranteed.

3) Deskercise: The Exercise Ball

Replace your desk chair with an exercise ball – engage your core and improve your balance. Warning: careful how you choose to move on the exercise ball, as they can make some unpleasant noises (and then you will get weird looks from your coworkers).

4) Stand App

So focused on your work that you forget to stand up? Stand will help remind you – the app sends notifications each hour, straight to your desktop. No excuses.

5) Take the Stairs

This one’s pretty simple. If you can, take the stairs. While you’ll get a little bit of cardio in and stretch your legs, you’ll also miss the awkward elevator silence. It’s a win-win.

6) Rise to the Challenge 

Dealing with a pesky printer or scanner that always seems to take forever? While you’re waiting, stand up and do calf raises. Rise up to your tippy toes, hold for a second or two, and lower yourself back down. Repeat until your printing or scanning is done – disclaimer: you might be sore, depending on how bad your printer is.

7) The Friendly Coworker

Do a lap around the office, or go from floor to floor to visit people in other departments. A simple change of scenery and engaging with colleagues who are doing work different enough from yours might spark an idea you can use when you venture back to your desk. Not to mention, you might make new friends!

8) Exercise Outing: Yoga – Don’t Hate, Meditate

Yoga in the park seems to be the new thing, and oftentimes happens around lunch time – Google “yoga in the park” to see if there’s a meet-up in your area. Or, if you’re not an outdoorsy type, stores like lululemon, prAna, and Athleta offer complimentary classes each week!

9) Exercise Outing: Hit the Ground Running

You may want to leave time to shower after this one. I’ve found that going for a lunch time run refuels and reenergizes me, allowing me to focus better throughout the second half of my work day. And by “run,” I really mean jog.

10) Exercise Outing: Opt Outside

Just get out there. Whether your office is near a great outdoor location – a park, lake, beach, mountains, you name it – or it’s in the middle of a bustling city, there’s bound to be something to explore. Walk to the nearby park and have a lunch picnic, adventure around the lake, or walk down a street you’ve never been to before.

So, the next time you find yourself hitting that morning or afternoon slump, get up and move around! You don’t have to run six miles to spark your creativity – you can do something as simple as an inconspicuous deskercise or make your next meeting a walking one. 

What do you do to stay active throughout the day? Do you think it helps your creative process? We’d love to know – share with us in the comments.

free guide to writing well

Article first found on jkrill@thinkpyxl.com (Jeannie Krill)

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