Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It’s a Beautiful Day Out! Here’s One Legit Reason to Take a Walk.

Volunteer Park Conservatory Seattle
Sigh. If only I could spend all sunny days at Volunteer Park Conservatory!
Image: cdrin / Shutterstock.com
The sun is shining, the market is calling, and you’re stuck in a cubicle. Sound familiar? Yep, that’s the definition of today for many Seattleites—and that will continue to be the case for the coming months. As much as I want to go play outside, alas, I must work and be productive. Sigh.

But wait! Here’s some great news from the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition: new research suggests that going for a walk can boost creative or “divergent” thinking by as much as 60% when compared to remaining stationary (AKA sitting in that cubicle).

According to the research, going for a walk as opposed to sticking it out in the office all day might actually be a huge boon to productivity. I’ve always been a big proponent of taking midday breaks, being sure to eat lunch AWAY from the computer screen, etc.—so this research is right up my alley.

Researchers from the Stanford School of Education’s Awesomely Adaptive and Advanced Learning and Behavior (AALab) assessed creative thinking abilities of participants, some of whom went on a walk and some of whom (poor things) just sat and thought. The tests required participants to come up with as many solutions or ideas possible in a given amount of time, and as it turns out, walkers scored much higher. The researchers even controlled for environment—and found that even when walkers simply walked on a treadmill in a stimuli-free (blank walls, etc.) environment, they still scored higher on the tests.

Important to note is that although walks appear to have a very positive effect on brainstorming, or divergent thinking, in many cases it actually had a negative impact on focused, or convergent, thinking. Convergent thinking is when you’re trying to come up with one correct answer or solution, and apparently the extra brain stimulation doesn’t make coming up with a solution easier.

So, here’s the TL;DR—if you’ve got some creative thinking to do or some brainstorming that needs to happen, get it done while taking a walk out in that beautiful sunshine (especially you, Seattleites—sun doesn’t last forever here!). But if you need to buckle down and focus, put off the walk until later.

Anyone out enjoying the sun today? I hope not everyone is stuck inside!