The 3 Benefits of Exercise on Creativity
Exercise is great. It’s one of the most natural things the human body is built to do. But our work-lives in the 21st century don’t often encourage it or leave much time for it. It takes effort. It also (particularly if you live in the UK) can involve getting very wet and muddy. It’s something that is very easy to come up with an excuse not to do. But it’s always worth doing.
It can feel exclusive, like everyone else finds it really easy and is good at it naturally. If you’re not particularly comfortable with your appearance or a certain part of your body, it can feel potentially embarrassing. At school I despised cross-country; it felt pointless because there was no ball to chase, I got breathless really quickly and it was humiliating as the faster people started lapping me even though we were only running round the school fields 3 times. But now I really look forward to a run or a long walk as something that makes me feel great, the more I did it over the years, the easier it got.
Although some people do seem to be able to spring out of bed with their Nikes on already under their slippers, for me and many others it’s something that takes a lot of will-power and effort to do. But the more you exercise, the more you enjoy the gains it brings you and subsequently, life in general is better and easier then when you’re not exercising. Without jumping face first into a snake-pit of hungry clichés, in the immortal words of The New Radicals – YOU ONLY GET WHAT YOU GIVE.
Fitting it into a schedule can be really difficult as well. But it will become a highly-valued part of your daily/weekly routine once you manage it. The most important thing is finding what activities work for you. It needs to be something sustainable and enjoyable. It’s easy to dive head-first into a new fitness class or healthy routine, only to let it slip after 3 weeks because you’re not enjoying it or you can’t justify it time-wise. But it only takes a bit of effort and creative thinking to make it part of your routine and soon you won’t want to miss it.
Personally I find a mix of running and walking, a regular swim, and the occasional game of football or golf suits me pretty well. I don’t go to the gym anymore as it doesn’t suit what I want to achieve at the moment and it can be pretty expensive if you’re not making good use of it. The great thing about running is all you need is a pair of good shoes, some shorts and a t-shirt and you can do it pretty much anywhere, also it’s completely free!
But it doesn’t matter what you do, it could be anything from a fast walk/cycle back and forth from work, a game of netball in the evening, or Zumba or circuit training on a Sunday morning. As long as you do some form of intensive exercise at regular intervals, you will notice dramatic improvements in your mental and physical health.
It’s particularly relevant if your day-to-day routine doesn’t involve a lot of movement. A lot of creative freelancers (myself included) will mainly work from a desk (although mine involves instruments and mixing desks, I’m still sat down for the majority of the time) and projects with fast turnaround times can demand hours of un-broken concentration and focus, without ever really moving very far apart from for the occasional cup of tea, stroke of the cat and scan of the BBC football pages!
Anyone who spends a lot of their day sitting down, whether at a desk writing music or designing artwork, doing admin in an office or driving a taxi will know the various slumps and dips in energy and the various physical aches and pains that will hit you at different points in the day.
Not only can you feel tired, fidgety or tetchy but it can also be very hard to stay calm and focussed mentally. Inevitably, your efficiency is affected and it can be very difficult to be creative and enthusiastic when your lower back seems to be bearing you an unholy grudge and your brain feels like it’s already put on its Batman pyjamas and climbed into bed even though it’s only 3.13PM.
With communication and the world of business being as quick as it is in the 21st century it’s also very easy to fall into a mind-set of feeling like you always need to be working. It can be tempting to try and improve your work efficiency and success by always being “on” – Trying to develop new ideas in any down time and always being contactable for all of the 101,080 minutes that we get each week. (Thought that was more interesting than writing 24/7!)
But exercise can be a massive help to all those issues. Here’s the big three reasons why getting out there and getting a bit sweaty can make such a difference to the our creativity and productivity –
- It gives you more energy and makes you feel better physically
It can be very tempting to give an excuse on why not to do some exercise. In my experience, most minor niggles and injuries actually disappear as soon as you start exercising and the body loosens up. People are generally more ill, lethargic and have more complaints of minor strains and pains the less exercise they do. So don’t let “feeling tired” be a reason to not start in the first place. Once you have finished exercise your body will feel great. You’ll feel stronger, leaner and looser and it should give you more confidence in your appearance. You’ll be able to sit at your desk and feel comfortable and relaxed all day rather than tense and fidgety, meaning you’ll get a load more work done and don’t need so many breaks for coffee, chocolate or other short-term pick me ups which actually can make you feel worse as soon as their superficial effects have worn off.
- It gives you more energy and makes you feel calmer and more organised mentally
When your mind feels like each thought is having to fight through a mile of sludge just to be heard, a bit of physical activity can feel like giving those poor, over-worked synapses a thoroughly good spring clean and de-clutter. Turning that black treacle into sparkling clear mountain spring water!
A period of reasonably intense exercise which raises the heart-rate and subsequently brings more oxygen to the brain, can work wonders for achieving clarity and calmness of mind. It will give you a more positive outlook for the day and get rid of all that clutter that can fill our brains by trying to keep up with Emails, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your Gran’s opinions on UKIP etc.
Also as welcome bonus, it also means you can also enjoy a treat or a snack without feeling like you’re getting increasingly unhealthy and falling into a downward spiral of ever increasing lethargy and low-self-esteem that only that extra slice of cake can get you out of!
- It can spark new creative ideas and strategies
If you find yourself metaphorically (or occasionally literally) banging your head against your keyboard trying to work out that final verse for the song or scene for that script, a burst of exercise can suddenly spark the little moment of inspiration that spending hours stuck at your desk would never have triggered. Physical activity releases a number of hormones, including endorphins, which not only make you feel great, but also give your thoughts a whole new energy and positivity, enabling you to look at creative situations from a new angle and with a fresh outlook. It can re-invigorate interest in an old idea which you’d never been able to finish or can give you that final push over the line on a project with an impending dead-line.
So you can feel better, be more productive, be more confident and find work enjoyable and invigorating rather than tiring and stress-full, all just be building a little bit of regular exercise in to your routine. Hope that’s helpful, and let me know your own stories of how exercise has helped your creativity!