In recent years, we’ve been told repeatedly that sitting for long periods of time is very, very bad. It’s been associated with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and an abnormal cholesterol level, as well as an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. In fact, if you routinely sit for more than three hours a day, it can shave two years off your life.
To this list, you can now add a decrease in creativity.
While walking and talking one day, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz took notice of the fact that their doctoral advisor tended to brainstorm while strolling outdoors. It’s not uncommon. Apparently, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg also held meetings while walking as a way to stimulate new ideas.
Oppezzo and Schwartz decided to study whether creativity was boosted by walking. They questioned 176 different people while they were walking, and while they were sitting, and found that the number and quality of creative answers increased by 60% when a subject was walking. For example, when asked to list alternative uses for a common object, such as a shoe, participants were able to list a greater number of uses, and more original ones, while walking.
Views of nature didn’t affect the outcome. Creativity spiked whether walking indoors, or outdoors. The walk didn’t even need to be very interesting: the researchers noted a positive effect on creativity even when the subject was walking on a treadmill, facing a wall.
We know that aerobic activity improves thinking and memory, and it’s the only proven way to decrease your likelihood of developing dementia. It could be that the same increase in blood flow to the brain that helps memory also boosts creativity. More studies will be needed to find exactly why walking is so beneficial.