More often than not we tend to look at physical fitness as an experience born of vanity. As a result, It’s easy to assume that every hour spent in the gym is an hour spent trying to look better naked (which is certainly a perk of the practice). But its really much more. In fact, if you’re in the creative world, you may want to start focusing on your fitness to expand your mind.
So how strong is the connection between our creative brains and our physical bodies? Of course, there’s the widely known example that was so eloquently expressed by Reece Witherspoon’s character Elle Woods in the movie Legally Blonde:
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands!”
But science explains this a little differently. When we participate in aerobic exercise and our heart rate is elevated, it leads to increased production of what is called Brain Derived Neutropic Factor (BDNF) inside the hippocampus. These increased levels of BDNF are responsible for creating new brain cells, which ultimately reduce stress, increase memory recall and, just like Ms. Woods said, make us happier.
So how does this relate to our creative brains? It’s all about memory and mental time travel. A 2007 study out of Nature Reviews showed that imagining the future is actually dependent on the same neural characteristics that are required for recalling the past. In essence, our memories and our ability to recount specific details from our past (going backwards) allow us to create our future (going forwards).
If exercise improves our memory and memory is required for creativity – doesn’t it make sense to work out? Simply put: yes. Personally, I don’t have to look much further than my own experience to know this is true.
So, people, train your body and train your brain! If you’re not very active now, start with a test: 30 minutes a day of intense cardio and see what the impact on your creativity is (or productivity, happiness at work, etc.). Regardless of whether or not the experiment works the way you expected, you’ll only yield a positive return on your effort… whether for your body, or your mind!