Move It or Lose It: The Link Between Exercising and Creative Output
If there’s one thing we freelance content writers have in common, it’s the fact that we sit in front of a computer screen for hours every day. Last week, I sat mulling over a stubborn assignment for so long that my legs fell asleep. Realizing how inconvenient temporary lameness would be if I needed, say, to escape a house fire, I waited for the blood to start flowing then went around the house to check the batteries in all my smoke detectors.
When I got back to the screen, exhilarated from my exertions with the stepladder, I had a sudden inspiration that let me complete the assignment in record time. And that got me thinking: What exactly is the connection between exercise and the creative thought process? When I sit still for a long time, is the blood flowing through my brain as sluggishly as it flows through my legs?
Actually, it turns out that our brains get a constant, regular supply of blood from the internal carotid and vertebral arteries. An impressive 20 percent of the blood processed through the heart goes straight to our heads. The brain needs this fuel because neurons metabolize far more quickly than other cells and will die when deprived of oxygen.
Keeping our cardiovascular systems in good shape — making sure the blood flows freely — can reduce our chances of developing an arterial blockage that can lead to a stroke. Moreover, a recent study published by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) found that cardio improves short-term memory and may prevent middle-aged people from getting Alzheimer’s as they age.
The AAN study, conducted over a 25-year time span, is interesting because it shows that the short-term memory of middle-aged people who got regular cardio exercise when they were young is better than that of those who did not exercise. It found that cardiorespiratory fitness adds a year, on average, to cognitive function. That’s impressive.
It gets even better. Several studies show that exercise helps us become more creative thinkers. A 1997 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that creativity improves after exercise whether or not it makes us feel better, and more recently, a Dutch study publishing in Frontiers indicates that people who exercise regularly perform better on creative tasks.
Study after study has linked exercise to physical fitness, and now scientists are beginning to recognize the importance of regular exercise to mental agility as well. Here’s the catch: For exercise to stimulate creative thinking and enhance memory, it has to become a regular habit. You can’t just hop on the treadmill one morning and come up with an idea that will revolutionize Internet marketing.
So before you sit down to write each day, take your dog for a run or ride your bike to the coffee shop to get your morning latte. Go to the gym between long blocks of writing. You will live longer and remember more of your life — and chances are, you’ll become a more inspired writer, too.
When she isn’t writing, Valerie F is scrolling through real estate sites looking for the perfect place to spend the rest of her life writing.