Maybe you feel like you've been nagged enough about exercise. Working up a sweat, you've no doubt been told (repeatedly), can help you beat the afternoon slump, improve your sense of work-life balance, and even reduce stress in order to help you be a better manager. Oh, and it'll fight off the horrible effects of sitting too much and keep you healthy too, of course.

If you thought that there couldn't possibly be any more reasons to feel guilty about failing to hit the gym regularly, sorry. Science has one more tantalizing benefit of exercise to add to the pile. Apparently, apart from the other benefits above, exercise might also be able to boost your brain's creative power as well.

Sweating your way to greater creativity

That's the suggestion of a short but intriguing video on Big Think recently featuring New York University neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki. In it she explains what her work is uncovering about the benefits of exercise in an unexpected new domain — creativity.

Her research deals with an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is associated with memory. Injure this area and you'll suffer from amnesia. But according to earlier research those with damage to their hippocampus also struggle when it comes to imagination.

“An experimenter back in 2007 tested amnesic patients on tasks of imagination. And she asked them can you imagine a situation that you've never experienced before. In this case it was imagine a tropical beach. And she compared the responses to people age matched and education matched people without hippocampal damage,” professor Suzuki explains. “What she found was these hippocampal patients, these amnesic patients who had normal language abilities, were unable to imagine a future scenario.”

Trouble with the hippocampus, therefore, doesn't just mean you can't recall that beach vacation you took, it also means you can't imagine a future one in any great detail. “There's multiple modes of evidence suggesting the hippocampus is not only involved in memory but is also important for imagination. A key component of creativity,” professor Suzuki summarizes.

How is this fact at all related to exercise? Apparently, the best way for healthy folks to stimulate the hippocampus and generate new brain cells in the area is to get up and get moving. “Because of those brand new brain cells in my hippocampus I'm also enhancing my imagination. So the hypothesis that I'm working on in my lab is: Can exercise actually enhance creativity?” Suzuki says.

The idea that exercise is a creativity booster is still a hypothesis and more study is needed, but according to Big Think, Suzuki has “a wide array of research” backing up her idea. Gym haters might not love to hear it, but it looks like there could be one more huge benefit of getting a regular workout.

Do you find that exercise improves your creativity?

Published on: Aug 25, 2015
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