Think back to the last time you were stumped at work. What did you do about it? Researched and ruminated over possible solutions? Talked it over with a coworker? Focused on another project and came back to it later?
While all these tactics may help, the answer may be found in your running shoes.
According to new research, a single workout can immediately boost problem-solving skills … if you’re already in shape.
Scientists at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands recently published a study in the academic journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The research found people who exercised regularly performed better on problem-solving tests during a workout.
For the study, participants were divided into groups:
- ¼ of the group was fit (defined as having exercised at least three times per week over the past two years) and did two types of mental tasks at rest.
- ¼ of the group was fit and did two types of mental tasks while riding a stationary bike.
- ¼ of the group was sedentary and did two mental tasks at rest.
- ¼ of the group was sedentary and did mental tasks on the bike.
The tasks were aimed to measure divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is used to come up with new ideas when more than one is right (think brainstorming). Convergent thinking is used to come up with one quality solution to a particular problem. Both types of thinking are said to be the cornerstones of creativity.
On the whole, fit people did better than sedentary individuals on both tasks, whether at rest or during cycling. However, the fit group did significantly better with convergent thinking while they were biking than when at rest (the sedentary group did worse when cycling on both tests). This means that a quick workout can help you find the solution to a pressing problem if you’re in shape.
How to apply the research
Even though this research is interesting, your boss may be reluctant to let you head out for a few miles in the middle of the workday. Still, there are other ways you can be active while you’re at work. Try to move around for at least 10 minutes, but if you don’t have that much time for a break, some exercise is better than none at all. These short spurts of activity may be enough to get your creative juices flowing:
- Take a walk through your office hallways, around the parking lot, or up and down the stairs. Even taking the “long way” to the bathroom or to chat with a colleague may help.
- Do a quick circuit at your desk. Try jumping jacks, lunges, and squats – anything that will get your heart rate up.
- Perform a short yoga sequence in your cubicle. A few sun salutations and vinyasas can benefit the mind and body.
Do you feel more creative during or after workouts? This research can explain why so many of us finish a run with a clear head. I usually come up with some great article topics while I’m running – if only I could remember to write them down afterwards!
Written by Jen Matz.