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Work Out Your Mind

Author: Michelle Leung

Behind the development of unique ideas that give voice to my work as a graphic designer lies the creative process. This out-of-the-box thinking can be challenging at times because it’s hard to determine what will ignite the first innovative spark within and when. With deadlines and unfortunate creative blocks, I can only hope the haze in my mind will be replaced with originality and inventive thinking.

Now, what if I told you that I have found the key to getting my creative juices flowing with a simple task. What is it, you might ask? One word: exercise.

We all know that exercise has many benefits, including physical, emotional, and mental health. Research also has shown that exercise is connected with improving cognition, which in turn can help boost creativity. Award-winning neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, PhD, wrote a book in 2015 called Healthy Brain, Happy Life: A Personal Program to Activate Your Brain & Do Everything Better. In it, she writes, “… exercise not only enhances the function of the prefrontal cortex, which we know is important in creativity, but also enhances the function of the hippocampus, a key area involved in future thinking, or imagination.”

This correlation between exercise and enhanced creativity links to the positive effect on divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is using creative ways to problem solve. Exercise helps us develop new ideas that induce changes to our brain. These nuances may be responsible for improving memory and igniting our curiosity.

In addition, aerobic exercise, such as running, stimulates the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). This encourages the growth of new brain cells and their survival in the hippocampus. This region is important in the development of long-term memory. By enhancing this area, we are able to think about the future and “imagine new situations,” according to Suzuki.

Furthermore, exercise can assist in changing your brain to get the creative wheels turning. During physical activity, your body flushes out cortisol. This hormone triggers your body’s fight or flight response when facing stressful situations. In that moment of strain, your brain functions for creativity and problem-solving diminish and begin to shut down. By being able to release cortisol, you free up your mind and allow thoughts to come through.

At the same time during exercise, your pituitary gland is releasing endorphins into your body. This hormone activates the brain to help minimize discomfort and bring a sense of euphoria. By having an overall sense of well-being, it can aid in the creative thought process and provide positive mental energy.

There are many ways to stimulate creativity, but exercise is an activity that requires activating multiple parts of the brain and is good for it too. So next time you hit that writer’s wall or feel your creative design tank is empty, step away from your desk and try a different approach. Don’t worry if you are not the exercise type. This method applies to all fitness levels and ages. Go for a walk or run, stretch your body and mind in yoga, or slam some weights around on the gym floor. This will begin to declutter the mind, relieve tension, and allow you to break free from the mental constraints that are suppressing the authentic, original, creative you. Who knows…maybe the next big idea or solution to that problem that you’ve been thinking about will pop into your mind. Why not give it a try?

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