Gretchen Reynolds’s column in The New York Times last week featured a tantalizing headline: “Can Exercise Make You More Creative?” She reviewed a number of lab-condition experiments: In each test, subjects performed various planned movements, then completed “creative” tasks. In the studies, participants showed improved problem-solving skills and idea generation after doing a structured movement.
Reynolds then focused on an article in the open-access journal Scientific Reports that measured real-world activity and examined its relationship to creativity—and to happiness. In one study, 79 volunteers were fitted with accelerometers, small devices that calculate movement. The participants, all university students, completed verbal and drawing tests, as well as a questionnaire about their mood. The purpose of the study was to ask, Are people who move more creative? Are they happier?
Which also leads us to ask, what is creativity? Christian Rominger, writing as the lead author in another study, has defined creativity as “the ability to generate novel, useful, and surprising ideas.” And what’s happiness? Your guess is as good as mine, but in this study, it was whatever the participant said it was in the questionnaire.
The experiment showed that people who move a lot are actually more creative. This was true for people who don’t exercise formally a great deal, but are in motion throughout the day. These people also scored higher on the happiness scale. It’s interesting, though, that happiness and creativity were not correlated. In other words, you can be active and creative, active and happy, but not necessarily creative and happy.
Where does this leave the person who can’t move freely, who can’t walk or run? If that is your situation, are you consigned to an uncreative (and possibly unhappy) life?
Not necessarily. First of all, the study shows association, not causation. Moving doesn’t necessarily boost creativity; it just goes along with it. Second, the study compared active people to inactive people. It did not try to measure the effect of increasing an individual’s level of activity. Third, only fully-abled young participants were enrolled (so that differences in activity would more easily show up statistically). Fourth, the amount of fitness did not matter so much as the frequency and duration of the activity.
So what’s the takeaway if you have difficulty moving? Moving is associated with other desirable traits. Some people who don’t want to use a walker say, “I don’t want to become dependent on it.” But what if the consequence of that choice is that you walk less and less? And if the right walker can help you maintain correct posture, remain active and look good, then that might be a kind of “dependence” to welcome and enjoy.
At Foray, we want you to use whatever tools you need to move as much as you can.
In good health,
Dr. Patricia Kavanagh