Need to think through a problem? It might help to get up from your desk and spend a few minutes pounding pavement.
This data comes courtesy of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. In one experiment, subjects had to sit facing a blank wall while researchers named an object. The subjects then had to come up with an alternate way of using it. For example, for “shovel” you might say “bugler-whacker”, or potentially something non-homicidal. The students had two sets of three words and had four minutes per set to come up with as many responses as possible. For a second task, subjects had to complete a word association game with fifteen three-word groups, such as “base-snow-dance”, where the answer is “ball”. Subjects repeated both games first while sitting and then while walking on a treadmill. Once the subjects started walking, they did much better at both games.
Researchers then repeated this experiment with a different group, some who just sat, and others who just walked on the treadmill. The treadmill walkers did much better, confirming that the first time the improved performance wasn’t due to practice.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of treadmills improving thought. Another study found that having employees use treadmills at very low speeds while working improved productivity by ten per cent. Of course, you could just take a walk on your break—or better yet, take a one-on-one meeting or a conference call while you stroll. Your creativity might thank you.