Health First: Walking can increase creativity

Davidicus Wong , M.D. / Vancouver Courier
May 6, 2014 02:06 PM

A recent study from Stanford University shows we’re more creative while walking than when sitting. Photo Dan Toulgoet

I recently wrote of the many benefits of regular physical activity. These include improvements in cardiovascular fitness, sleep quality, mood and anxiety levels and reductions in the risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis.

So you won’t be surprised when your doctor writes you a prescription for exercise. But you might be if your teacher or boss tells you to take a hike – all for the sake of creativity.

A recent study from Stanford University shows we’re more creative while walking than when sitting. In their study published last week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, coauthors Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz looked at the immediate effect of walking on performance in standardized tests of divergent thinking.

They tested 176 college students and other adults in four experiments after they had walked indoors on a treadmill, sat indoors, walked outdoors or sat in a wheelchair while they were pushed along the same path.

Divergent thinking involves generating creative ideas by exploring possible solutions. It is essential for brainstorming – the free flow of ideas we need before we can begin to write an essay or story, solve a problem or collaborate as a group.

In the Stanford study, subjects were asked to come up with alternate uses of a specific object and to generate complex analogies to specific phrases.
Walking — either indoors or outdoors — resulted in significantly more creative responses than sitting.

Creative thinking isn’t just for artists, writers and students. It can benefit every aspect of our lives. Our most troublesome problems seem to come up over and over again. Divergent thinking can help us generate new approaches to those problems. It can help us re-imagine and reinvent our lives. It can open the window to new possibilities.

In B.C., doctors are connecting with their patients in creative new ways.

Last Saturday, I had a 90-minute group medical visit with 15 of my long-time patients, all living with chronic pain. This alternative way of serving my patients allowed me the time to share new approaches to the challenges of their conditions.

I introduced the concept of neuroplasticity – how the function of different areas of the brain and the connections between neurons can change and adapt to new learning. I was able to teach them mindfulness meditation, the principles of cognitive therapy (how we can change both our emotional states and our perception of pain by changing our thoughts) and the practice of self-hypnosis.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician and Physician Lead of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. You can read more about achieving your positive potential in health at

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