I recently wrote of the many benefits of regular physical activity. These include improvements in cardiovascular fitness, sleep quality, mood and anxiety levels and reductions in the risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis.
So you won’t be surprised when your doctor writes you a prescription for exercise.
You might be if your teacher or boss tells you to take a hike – all for the sake of creativity.
A recent study at Stanford University has shown that we are more creative while walking than when we are sitting. In their study published last week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, coauthors Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz looked at the immediate effect of walking on performance in standardized tests of divergent thinking. They tested 176 college students and other adults in four experiments after they had walked indoors on a treadmill, sat indoors, walked outdoors or sat in a wheelchair while they were pushed along the same path.
Divergent thinking involves generating creative ideas by exploring possible solutions. It is essential for brainstorming – the free flow of ideas we need before we can begin to write an essay or story, solve a problem or collaborate as a group.
In the Stanford study, subjects were asked to come up with alternate uses of a specific object and to generate complex analogies to specific phrases.
Walking – either indoors or outdoors – resulted in significantly more creative responses than sitting.
Creative thinking isn’t just for artists, writers and students. It can benefit every aspect of our lives. Our most troublesome problems seem to come up over and over again. Divergent thinking can help us generate new approaches to those problems. It can help us reimagine and reinvent our lives. It can open the window to new possibilities.
In B.C., doctors are connecting with their patients in creative new ways.
Last Saturday, I had a 90-minute group medical visit with 15 of my long-time patients, all living with chronic pain. This alternative way of serving my patients allowed me the time to share new approaches to the challenges of their conditions.
I introduced the concept of neuroplasticity – how the function of different areas of the brain and the connections between neurons can change and adapt to new learning. I was able to teach them mindfulness meditation, the principles of cognitive therapy (how we can change both our emotional states and our perception of pain by changing our thoughts) and the practice of self-hypnosis.
On Saturday, May 3rd, I’ll be connecting with my patients in another creative way. The Doctors of B.C. (formerly the B.C. Medical Association) will demonstrate their care and commitment to our patients and community with a free and fun 2 km walk at Kitsilano Beach Park in Vancouver at 9:30 am.
All members of the public are invited, but come early to get your free pedometer. You never know what great ideas we’ll come up with just walking and talking. For more information about this event, check online at www.bcma.org/walk-with-your-doc.