I am a big believer in walking as a form of activity and exercise. The evidence suggests that it’s a legitimate exercise for improved physical and mental wellbeing, but I also like the fact that it’s relatively kind on the body, and can often be sustained well into later life.
Another thing I like about walking concerns its impact on thinking. I have personally noticed that when faced with an issue that requires some creativity, I am usually better off taking a walk rather than nulling things over in my mind sat at my desk. In fact, I’ve met lots of people who have experienced flashes of inspiration while out walking that they may well not have had sat in their office, at home or in a more traditional setting.
There is even some scientific support for this idea in the form of a study that assessed the impact of walking on creative thinking . The study itself was made up of four separate experiments, each of which tested creative thinking (e.g. alternative uses of an everyday object such as a button or car tyre) in specific settings such as sitting or during or immediately after walking. Walking, both inside (e.g. on a treadmill) and outside (on a university campus), was assessed.
The results showed that creative thinking was significantly boosted during and immediately after walking. In one of the experiments, walking induced a 60 per cent rise in creativity. What is more, it did not seem to matter much whether the walking was performed indoors or outdoors – the benefits were much the same.
The authors of the study theorise about what it is about walking that enhances creativity. They suggest the movement per se is not the most potent factor, as benefits appear to persist even after someone is seated after walking. They suggest improvements in circulation or chemical changes may have something to do with it, or perhaps it’s a by-product of the mood-enhancing effects activity can have.
Another suggestion they make is that walking and thinking at the same time is a ‘dual task’ that allowed more creativity to ‘seep in’. But they dismiss this idea too, on the basis that when individuals were more ‘taxed’ in a distracting environment (outside), creativity was no better than when walking in a less taxing environment (inside).
So, when it comes to explaining the effect, there really were no clear answers from the authors. But there is no doubt about the overall findings of their work: when stuck for ideas and one simple thing that may help boost our inspiration and problem-solving is to get up and go walkabout.
1. Oppeezo M, et al. Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. 2014;40(4):1142–1152