Has the muse taken a hiatus? Maybe it’s time for a walk.

In addition to boosting our health, a new study shows us that walking actually increases creative inspiration – or divergent thinking – by 60 percent. And that creativity continues to flow even when we sit down afterward.

Divergent thinking is the process we use during brainstorming or when exploring multiple possible solutions. It’s characterized by free-flowing thought, during which we make unexpected conclusions or connections. So this is exciting news for everyone from elementary school teachers to department managers and employees, anyone looking to enhance the beginning stages of creativity.

During their study, researchers at Stanford placed participants, specifically 176 college students and other adults, in various indoor and outdoor scenarios. Experiments lasted between 5 to 16 minutes, from sitting and walking on an indoor treadmill to walking outdoors or being pushed in a wheelchair as a means for providing the same visual movement and associated stimuli. Participants were then asked to think of alternate uses for three objects. The result: Creative output was 60 percent higher for those walking than for those who sat.

Another experiment looked at a participant’s ability to generate complex analogies based on prompt phrases. Researchers found that 100 percent of those who walked created at least one innovative, high-quality analogy compared with just 50 percent of those seated inside.

The creative process is one that spans idea generation through execution, and researchers emphasize the fact that convergent thinking – or the kind that requires focused concentration for a single correct answer – did not get the same boost from walking. However, the results did show the importance of small bouts of activity within the day – especially when you need to find a fresh perspective.

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