Can running trails turn you into the next Van Gough? Will your next treadmill workout spur you to write the next great American novel? Studies show running, and aerobic exercise, in general, stimulates your brain in a way that can help you bust through writer’s block, solve a problem you’ve been wrangling with or find the inspiration to propel a project. Running can boost your mental efforts and clear away brain fog that stymies creative thinking.
Though it might sound too good to be true, the relationship between running and clarified, creative thinking is scientific fact, not dreamy fiction. Neuroscientist (and TED Talk presenter) Wendy Suzuki has studied the topic and backs up the assertion that aerobic exercise positively affects learning, creativity, and memory. She explains that when you engage in aerobic exercise, you spur an uptick in total body circulation. Blood flow to your brain increases and provides ample oxygen that keeps existing brain cells healthy. In addition, new brain cells and blood vessels are created and have an improved chance of surviving.
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It’s in this way that aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus. Suzuki says the hippocampus is responsible for memory, verbal learning, and creativity. Clearing out “brain fog” and stimulating brain growth can help you ferret out frivolous thought and zone in on new approaches to pressing problems.
“Studies show you’ll improve your memory and lower the risk of developing dementia with vigorous outdoor movement.”
Also, your body releases endorphins when you do aerobic exercise. The endorphins act as a “feel good” stress reliever. Many runners talk about a “runner’s high” when they describe the mental flow and freeness that can kick-in during vigorous miles. The repetitiveness of running, along with an endorphin boost, can help you find flow, release tension and put thoughts that might be stifling your creativity at bay.
Do you run outdoors? If so, there’s more good news. If you mix-up your routes you’ll be increasing brain plasticity as you navigate your course. You benefit from integrating multiple sources of sensory input like traffic, mixed surfaces, wildlife and more. Studies show you’ll improve your memory and lower the risk of developing dementia with vigorous outdoor movement. From many an artist’s perspective, outdoor experiences tend to invigorate the senses and promote and inspire creative thinking and innovation.
Keep in mind, just as you can’t get fit by simply sitting and thinking about running, you can’t produce a masterpiece or solve a puzzle without putting your inspired ideas to action! If you’re hit with a bout of creativity on your next run, jot down your thoughts before they escape you. Clarity can be as invigorating as that run you just enjoyed, but it also can be fleeting.