Creative running

Christopher Bergland (here) believes that we think in a different way when we exercise.

Anyone who exercises regularly knows that your thinking process changes when you are walking, jogging, biking, swimming, riding the elliptical trainer, etc. New ideas tend to bubble up and crystallize when you are inside the aerobic zone. You are able to connect the dots and problem solve with a cognitive flexibility that you don’t have when you are sitting at your desk. This is a universal phenomenon, but one that neuroscientists are just beginning to understand. … Creativity is the ability to bring together disparate ideas in new and useful combinations. What is happening to the electrical, chemical and architectural environment of our brains when we exercise that stimulates our imagination and makes us more creative? What is the parallel between the waking dream state induced by exercise and the REM dream state experienced during sleep? Although these questions remain enigmatic, neuroscientists have identified that the non-thinking ‘default state‘ of consciousness is key to creative thinking. … Sweat is like WD-40 for your mind-–it lubricates the rusty hinges of your brain and makes your thinking more fluid. Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are buried in the subconscious. Every thought that you have is a unique tapestry of millions of neurons locking together in a specific pattern-this is called an engram. If you do not ‘unclamp’ during the day, you get locked into a loop of rut-like thinking. If for any reason you are unable to do aerobic activity, focused meditation is also an excellent way to create a default state.

The piece has quotes from a number of writers and runners such as:

Ralph Waldo Emerson said of Thoreau: The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.”

I find this idea intriguing. There is no reason why the rhythm and effort of running (or even walking) would not affect both cognition and consciousness. There might even be some chemistry there. But also the ‘default network’ angle is interesting. If the motor part of the brain is busy and, because of moving, we cannot override the control of sensory input – then there cannot be a ‘task’ control of attention. It would be, or be like, the default network being in control.

A totally opposite but somehow the similar effect is my old trick of sitting still in the dark and silence to think. What would be the difference between: the motor and sensory parts of the brain working automatically and therefore leaving the rest of the brain free to mull; and, a sort of imposed sensory deprivation and motor inactivity letting the brain mull? Maybe or maybe not. I mention this for those of you who are like me and too old and sore to ever run again.

One thought on “Creative running

  1. Hmm, interesting idea, but it doesn’t ring true for me. I do a lot of running and I can’t say I ever have ideas when I’m running. On the contrary my mind goes into a kind of running zone in which I’m not thinking about anything very important. I find that <i>after</i> a run my mind is rather clear and this can certainly help the creative process but I’d never have said that running itself did that. So I guess it’s different for different people.

    JK: Thanks, useful to know.

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