I have a confession: I used to be a couch potato. I considered pushing the buttons on the remote and flipping people off a workout. I was a potato chip vegetarian because, well, potatoes are vegetables. In between working out my middle finger and chomping on salt-and-vinegar chips, I decided I wanted to be an author and wrote a really awful first draft. Then I wrote a second one.
Getting in Shape
None of them ever stuck. I even got into the habit of using my mom’s coat hanger, er, stationary bike, but even working out an hour a day didn’t help me lose weight.
Then I read about HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). I traded my pointless hour-long exercise in futility for a ten-minue high-intensity workout, and amazingly, for the first time in my life, I started to lose weight. Although the workouts were murderous, I kept it up because it was the first thing that ever worked.
Eventually I worked my way up to half-hour workouts on a treadmill, but kept the first ten minutes for high-intensity intervals to spur fat burning. (High intensity training works because it boosts the production of adrenaline, which forces the body to burn fat instead of carbs. Kind of like a low-carb diet, but without having to give up every food on the planet that tastes good.)
Exercise and Creativity
Although I didn’t start exercising to boost my creativity, I realized the time I spent running gave me an opportunity to think about anything — including ideas for books, short stories, and blog posts. Using exercise as an outlet for creativity also helped me deal with stress.
Once, after a difficult day of dealing with dumb people at my retail job, I ran and thought about how much I hated dealing with idiots, and how I just wanted to move them all to another planet somewhere. Then it occurred to me that would be a logistical nightmare, because there are so many more idiots than intelligent people in the world. It would be easier to move the smart people to another planet and let the idiots have Earth. That idea became my first published book, Stupid Humans.
Additionally, I used the time to work through scenes in my head, and I noticed something interesting: I had a lot more ideas on the treadmill than I did sitting at my computer, staring at a blinking cursor. Or scrolling through Instagram, whatever.
I was even able to plan most of the plot of both my books while running, something I hadn’t done for my earlier manuscripts. Although I will never be a plotser (someone who outlines the entire book before beginning), I did find it helpful to have the major plot points in mind when I started writing.
Realizing how much exercise helped my creativity made me wonder why. My first thought was that exercise had to increase blood flow to the brain. No wonder I had more ideas when running or walking than sitting in a desk chair. A jolt of adrenaline from running probably didn’t hurt either.
I decided to research the science of exercise and creativity. As it turns out, a recent study from Stanford suggests I may be onto something about the link between creativity and exercise. Researchers gave 176 participants creative and divergent thinking tests while either walking or sitting. They found that creative output increased about 60 percent on the “divergent thinking” tests while walking vs. sitting.
How to Boost Your Creativity with Exercise
You don’t have to do interval training like I did. The Stanford study suggests walking is just as effective for boosting creativity. (However, if you want to lose weight while getting creative, I recommend the HIIT program.)
Start by taking a brisk walk and letting your mind wander. If you’re stuck on a creative problem, like a story you’re writing, an idea for a painting, etc., you can think about it while you walk. There’s no need to force anything — if nothing comes to you, just keep walking and see where your mind leads you. Sometimes I come up with a whole new story idea and leave the old one for another day.
Remember to exercise regularly for best results. I also find listening to music while I run boosts my creative process, and I never use my phone on the treadmill. I love my phone and use it all day, but when I run, that’s my time to be alone with my own thoughts and see where they lead me.
Bio: Sarcasm is V. R. Craft’s preferred method of communication, which she employs on her blog, Sharable Sarcasm. She is also the author of the science fiction series Stupid Humans, and the political satire Fail to the Chief, in which she imagined the American presidential election as a reality show. Er, more of a reality show.