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How Exercise Boosts Your Creativity, Concentration, and Focus

How Exercise Boosts Your Creativity, Concentration, and Focus

Exercise to improve focus, concentration, and creativity

By now we all know that regular exercise has major benefits for the body, like maintaining a healthy weight and keeping heart diseases at bay. But have you ever considered what exercise can do for our most important organ: the brain? Besides keeping your spirits high, recent studies explore the profound effects of exercise on improving your focus, concentration and even creativity! Let’s dive into how exercise can truly transform your mind.

Exercise for Improving Focus and Concentration

In the age of Tik Tok, our attention span isn’t getting any longer. In fact, a recent study reports a dramatic decrease in the attention span of people over time. Besides this scary reality, we have all struggled to concentrate on what we’re doing from time to time. Could exercise be the antidote to this struggle?

The most scientific evidence comes from studying children. A large randomized controlled trial of 221 school children in the US assessed the impact of daily after-school physical activity programs over a school year. The results revealed that the children not only got fitter, but intriguingly, their executive control improved. They became better at multitasking, ignoring distractions, and storing and analyzing information. In addition, a 2015 study on Dutch primary school children revealed that interspersing lessons with 20-minute bouts of moderate aerobics-style exercise (such as walking or running) improved their attention span. 

While there isn’t as much evidence for adults, studies support that a 20-minute physical activity like walking or jogging can improve concentration for up to an hour after. Even taking regular movement breaks during the work day has been shown to enhance self-reported mood and focus. A study of adults aged 65 years and over shows that higher levels of physical fitness and physical activity benefit multiple areas of cognitive function, including concentration. 

Although the science behind why exercise improves our concentration isn’t clear, changes in areas of the brain that enhance mental functioning and increased cerebral blood flow during and after exercise, have been linked. In addition, improvement in focus and concentration may be caused by certain psychological mechanisms, such as the mood boost and heightened alertness we experience after taking a break from the desk, which may in turn help us better focus and return to work with a clear mind.

Exercise for Enhancing Creativity 

Creativity is difficult to measure and is one of the most abstract of thinking skills. Although its relationship with exercise has not been clear, a few studies have found intriguing relationships between movement and innovative thinking.

For instance, a 2014 study of exercise and creativity proved that moving can spur innovation. participants were asked to sit at a desk in a dull-looking office and asked to ideate new ways to use a button and engage their imaginations. They were then asked to try a separate test of their creativity while walking on a treadmill in the same room. Almost all volunteers came up with even more ideas that were also more imaginative while walking than sitting.

In another interesting 2012 experiment, scientists showed the participants a looping, curvy line drawing and were asked to move their arms loosely and fluidly through space to trace the lines of the drawing. Meanwhile, another group moved in a nonfluid, straighter physical motion, to trace a more angular drawing. The aim was to test the hypothesis that the physical experience of fluidity, relative to non-fluidity, would lead to more fluid creative thought. After every session, the participants were asked to come up with original and unconventional uses for a newspaper, and it was found that those who moved fluidly and in a dance-like manner, came up with more innovative ideas than those whose movements had been rigid.

In addition, a 2020 study demonstrated that people who are active daily have more original and better ideas during tests of their inventiveness than people who are relatively sedentary. This only further suggests that if you need to get your creative juices running, you might want to get up and moving! 

Start Getting the Benefits Now

So how much activity do we need to garner these benefits? We now know that short bouts of moderate physical activity, like taking a 20-minute walk or leisurely cycle, have proven beneficial for enhancing concentration and creativity. The best place to start? Find an activity you truly enjoy, and carve out time for it on a daily basis.

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