As familiar as we may be with the health benefits of exercise, it’s often one of the first things we time-poor writers sacrifice in order to work on our craft. I know I do, anyway.
But in addition to the well-documented physical gains associated with a regular sweat-sesh, exercise has also been proven to increase creativity.
If you find yourself stuck in a creative rut , it might be time to swap those slippers for sneakers and pound the pavement for an hour or so.
Need more motivation? Read on for six ways exercise can get your creativity pumping along with your heart rate. Exercise Benefit #1: Releases Neurotransmitters
We’ve all heard how exercise releases endorphins to help make us feel good, but they are just one of four mood-boosting chemicals that have a profound influence on our creativity.
Along with endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine are the human body’s happiness chemicals . The more of these pumping around your body, the better.
A positive state of mind has been known to have a great impact on motivation, productivity and general wellbeing.
According to marketing professor Baba Shiv , the two strongest players in the creativity game are serotonin and dopamine.
These neurotransmitters are responsible for feelings of calm and excitement respectively, and while it may seem like they’re at opposite ends of the scale, they actually work together very well by creating a relaxed but energised state.
Low levels of serotonin typically cause feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety – not the best frame of mind to be pumping out words . Image via Unsplash While chronic sufferers of clinical depression/anxiety often require medication to keep their levels in check, there are a few natural boosters you can use to give yourself a pick-me-up.
Getting your blood pumping through a good bit of cardiovascular exercise helps stimulate the production of serotonin. You only need 15 minutes of brisk walking to feel the effects.
If you can take it outdoors for 20 and team up with a buddy or two, all the better – a sense of community , as well as good ol’ vitamin D from the sun, will also release a helpful dose of serotonin into your body.
So what about dopamine? Essentially, dopamine is your procrastinator-buster. Keeping its levels high can help you move past self-doubt and remain motivated to get things done.
It’s your ‘go’ button, and it’s self-perpetuating: dopamine makes you more focused on fulfilling your goals, and fulfilling your goals releases more dopamine. Pretty nifty, right? Exercise Benefit #2: Grows New Brain Cells
If stimulating the production of productivity-boosting neurotransmitters isn’t enough to entice you off the couch, then how about the prospect of growing new brain cells?
And not just any brain cells – cells within the hippocampus, which plays an important role in cognitive function.
The hippocampus’ primary function is long-term memory, but recent studies have hypothesised that new cell growth in this section of the brain also enables people to imagine new ideas and situations .
Neurogenesis – the process of developing new brain cells – is something all humans have the capacity to do, even when they are naturally lost as we age.
Harvard Medical School-affiliated studies also suggest that increased production of neurons in the hippocampus can help restore key brain function.
These studies also indicated that prolonged episodes of depression actually inhibit neurogenesis in the hippocampus by up to 10%. Image via Pexels Considering that there is a strong connection between mental illness and creativity (more on that below), ensuring that our brain continues to operate at optimum cognitive capacity can make all the difference.
So how can we supercharge our neuron production? Aerobic exercise is the key!
Studies suggest that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – think jogging, swimming, power-walking – yield far greater results than resistance training and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts.
Plus, if you’re not a huge fan of getting too sweaty too fast (or you’ve just been out of the fitness game for a while/ever), this type of low-impact exercise is the perfect place to start. Exercise Benefit #3: Strengthens Mental Health
Unfortunately, the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype has some alarming truth to it.
Creative types have the highest levels of depression of any group , with renowned writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath all having well-documented struggles.
So what is it about creativity that makes us more prone to mental illness? Apparently, it comes down to brain chemistry – in particular, our friends, the neurotransmitters. A study out of Sweden discovered that perfectly healthy and highly creative individuals had similar levels of dopamine D2 receptors in their brains as those suffering from schizophrenia.Remembering that dopamine is our motivation ‘go’ button, having more receptors means creative types are capable of divergent thoughts and making unusual and uncommon connections between ideas.While this in no way suggests that all creative minds suffer from schizophrenia, it does highlight the link between creativity and brain chemistry – and why some people have higher levels of imagination than others. Image via Pexels This connection has led to an almost romanticised idea that to achieve true creative genius, one must have a degree of mental illness or instability.Nothing could be further from the truth. Even though creativity and mental illness can be found hand-in-hand, strong mental health practices are essential to truly capitalise on productivity .I, for one, know my word count takes a hit whenever I’m struggling through a bout of depression, and it appears I’m not alone.Dr John Kaufman, a psychologist and creative researcher at California State University, suggests that treatment (including medication) can ‘alleviate the negative effects [of mental illness] and even allow for more fluid and creative thoughts’. Remembering that exercise stimulates the production of neurons in the hippocampus and the release of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin, incorporating a daily jog or brisk walk could be just what the creativity doctor ordered. Exercise Benefit #4: Establishes Routine Routine can be a touchy subject for creatives , with some finding freedom in the familiar and others becoming trapped by predictability.While we support the […]