The evidence linking walking and creativity may be more than anecdotal, reports Gretchen Reynolds in The New York Times (4/30/14). While various "studies have shown that animals and people usually perform better after exercise on tests of memory and executive function, which is essentially the ability to make decisions and organize thoughts … little science has supported the idea that exercise aids creativity." Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford graduate student, decided to test the idea … while she was taking a walk with her faculty advisor.
Her test, published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology, had students "sit and complete tests of creativity … like rapidly coming up with alternative uses for common objects, such as a button." She then repeated the tests after students used "a treadmill, at an easy, self-selected pace, facing a blank wall … For almost every student, creativity increased substantially when they walked. Most were able to generate about 60 percent more uses for an object that were ‘novel’ and ‘appropriate’."
Benefits were found to linger even after the walk was over. Marily further tested whether walking outdoors made a difference, but it didn’t. It may be that walking improves mood," which might enable creativity, Marily suggests, although the linkage is not clear. Another possibility is that walking "may divert energy that would be devoted, intentionally or not, to tamping down wild, creative thought," that walking might help the brain overcome "hyper-rational filters."