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Walk if you want more creative ideas

Walking sparks more creative thinking than sitting, according to new research.
Walking sparks more creative thinking than sitting, according to new research.
Matt Biddulph / Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0

Walking promotes more creative thinking than sitting, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. The researchers studied how walking temporarily improves free-flowing creative thought versus focused concentration.

"Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking," said lead researcher Marily Oppezzo, PhD, of Santa Clara University. "With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why."

In the study of 176 college students, researchers found that people who walked gave more creative responses to creativity tests than people who were sitting. The tests measured creative thinking, such as imagining alternate uses for common objects or coming up with analogies for complex ideas.

However, when asked to a solve a problem with a single answer, the sitters performed better than the walkers.

In one study, researchers named a common object and then participants tried to think of alternative ways to use that object. For example, when researchers said "button," a participant might say "can be used as a doorknob on a dollhouse."

Half of the participants sat alone in a room facing a blank wall. The other half were walking at a comfortable pace on a treadmill—but still alone and facing a blank wall.

Of the those tested for creativity while walking, 100 percent came up with more creative ideas in one experiment, while 95 percent, 88 percent and 81 percent of the walker groups in the other experiments had more creative responses compared with when they were sitting.

The researchers also studied people who walked on a treadmill indoors versus walking on a treadmill outdoors. Surprisingly, they found no difference between the groups.

A "creativity residual effect" was also discovered, a burst of creative thinking that persisted even after the participants sat down. The researchers suggested that walking may improve the performance of employees in professional environments. For example, walking for 30 minutes before a work meeting (one that requires innovation) can be nearly as useful as walking during the meeting.

"A 30-minute run to improve creativity at work would be unpopular for many people," said Oppezzo. "This research suggests an easy and productive way to weave walking into work activities."