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Can exercising boost your creativity?

Can working out get your creative juices flowing? Lounge speaks to creative professionals to find out

Exercising is great for your health. But what effect does it have on your mind?
Exercising is great for your health. But what effect does it have on your mind? (Istockphoto)

The fitness world is one that’s full of numbers: weight lost or gained, muscle mass, max-rep weight, reps, time under tension, rest period, holds…the list is endless. To scientifically prove how data obsessed exercising can help increase something intangible—like creativity—is tricky. A 2013 report called The Impact Of Physical Exercise On Convergent and Divergent Thinking, published in the journal Frontiers In Human Neuroscience, is the most cited on this topic. The report states that those who exercised regularly were better at tasks the require originality, spontaneous flexibility, and tasks that need a variety of different ideas to solve. The study combines the three attributes to try and objectively define creativity.

But creativity, of course, isn’t something that can be described accurately. The reports says that, “To address this issue, we tried to avoid addressing creativity as a whole but focused on particular components of creative performance – components that are more transparent at the process level and thus easier to investigate. More concretely, we investigated the impact (during and after) of acute moderate and intense physical exercise on creativity tasks tapping into convergent and divergent thinking.”

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“I would define it as a flow of your imagination, thoughts, and ideas which can be expressed in any form. Creativity can’t be calculated, even though in the industry you do hear ‘this isn’t creative enough’. But you cannot put a number to it. Someone can put a dot on a paper and it could be seen as creative. For others, it could be lame and futile,” says Paromita Banerjee. The 32-year-old Delhi-based artist has worked on the Bathroom Bytes series for Parryware India, designed logos for women entrepreneurs, and is currently working on a graphic novel of her own. She adds that creativity is relative, and depends on various factors like the nature of the work you’ve been commissioned or the audience you’re addressing.

Banerjee exercises, and says it has an effect on her work. Her workouts include basic home routines, but mainly consist of long walks, something that has suffered due to the pandemic. “Walks have definitely helped. I have had creative blocks especially when you have to come up with concepts or promos. When you are at your desk for hours, you feel all ideas have been exhausted. I have gone out for a walk and come back fresh and things have clicked. When you are walking or out for a run, you also tend to look around, you people-watch, you involuntarily eavesdrop. All this can be used to fuel creativity.” However, she adds that this doesn’t always happen. “It is also true that when you are back from working out, you may feel bummed out and tired.”

Amerjeet Singh, 29, is a digital artist. This involves a wide variety of work, ranging from visual effects to motion design and illustrations. He works out five times a week, has a pull-up bar installed at home, and mainly does bodyweight routines which last for around 90 minutes. His initial motivation was “to avoid getting a big belly”, but it has now become an essential part of his creative output as well. An article published in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine says that “mood and creativity were improved by physical exercise independently of each other”, but Amarjeet’s experience is more to do with visual appearance.

“The stereotype of a brooding unkempt artist has some truth, but it can be broken. I don’t socialise a lot, so when I have to be around people, I feel better if I feel fitter. I’ve figured that my body language, especially during team meetings on design ideas, has helped me get my point across with more confidence,” he says.

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It must be said here that creativity is not a trait that can only be applied to artists. Maybe creative thinking needs to be applied more in certain jobs than others, but it is generally a desirable trait to work on. One could be in sales or marketing and need creativity as badly as someone painting a portrait.

“Most people in the creative field know that exercising would help. Especially with the recent priority on the benefits of going the extra mile to living healthier. But the benefits could be subjective. Most people will consider it if there is a lot of data which proves creativity and working out are correlated. But even common sense dictates that when you are working on something like illustrations, hunched over your desk, then just going out and getting some exercise uplifts you, and the confidence does help when you present something,” says Banerjee.

Singh says that most artists he meets “don’t lean towards a lifestyle that includes regular workouts”, but there is always a way to motivate someone. The right kind of workout suggestions for this group would be to start with basic pilates to get the body ready for more strain. A week of pilates can be followed up with some basic bodyweight training including pushups and squats, mixed with some days of long walks or short runs. Working out before opening the laptop or taking out the notebook will help, or even working out inbetween two sessions of doing creative work. The effects of exercise will always be subjective, but as John F Kennedy said in what has now become a popular gym poster, “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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