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Walking really does stimulate creativity

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There have been many studies lately discussing the negative impacts of inactivity and sitting too much. But moving more isn't just good for your health. Researchers have shown that walking, specifically, can help improve creativity. 

If you've ever experienced writer's block, you know that taking a walk can, somehow, get your ideas moving. But the idea that walking can boost creativity is really nothing new. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed in Twilight of the Idols, "All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking." 

In a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Stanford University researchers concluded that "walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after."

In four experiments, the researchers measured creative as well as convergent thinking (which requires less creative thinking) for mostly college-aged students seated indoors, walking on an indoor treadmill (facing a blank wall), walking outdoors, or seated in a wheelchair while moving on the same path as the walkers.

In one experiment, participants completed a test of divergent creative thinking and a test of convergent thinking while seated and while walking on a treadmill. When the two were compared, the average increase in creative output was around 60 percent when participants were walking. 

However, that doesn't mean all mental abilities get a boost because of walking. Walkers actually performed "mildly worse" on the convergent thinking tests.

Another experiment compared analogical creativity of both walkers and sitters. In this case, 95 percent of walkers were able to come up with at least one "novel high-quality analogy" compared with 50 percent of participants who sat. 

The good news for busy office workers looking for a jolt of creativity is that it doesn't matter if you're walking inside your office or outdoors.

"While research indicates that being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking has a very specific benefit -- the improvement of creativity," the study said. 

And it's something employers in creative industries should keep in mind.

"Walking is an easy-to-implement strategy to increase appropriate novel idea generation," the researchers said in the study. "When there is a premium on generating new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate walks."


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— By on April 30, 2014, 10:10 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure