How Does Exercise Affect Your Mind? Working Out Might Make You More Creative, A New Survey Shows

Have you ever been on a run or in a dance class, and suddenly you have a really creative, brilliant idea? I have, for sure. There have been times I've been working on a story and I can't figure out what to do next, but then it just comes to me while I exercise, in a moment that feels like magical inspiration. But the truth is, I'm not alone in this whole great-ideas-while-sweating phenomenon. How exercise affects your mind is actually pretty interesting and multifaceted, in fact, and creativity is just one of the benefits.

According to a new survey by Bowflex, part of the reason why exercise can help spark creativity is simply because you let your mind wander and your imagination run wild while you do it. After polling over 1,000 American adults ages 18 and over, the survey, which was shared directly with Elite Daily over email, found that 53 percent of people say they fantasize while working out. Whether it's thinking of how to actually cure the common cold or how to finish up that screenplay, apparently we humans like to think outside the box a little when we're getting our sweat on.

Bowflex asked those taking the survey to describe some of their best "breakthrough" ideas that came to them while they were in the midst of a workout, and the brand described its findings in a press release, which was also shared with Elite Daily via email. As per the press release, one of the people surveyed said their best idea was “coming up with a robotic arm brace for my sister (who) had a stroke." Wild, right? Other survey respondents said that, while working out, they thought about the plot of a novel they wanted to write, and some even said they wrote songs while they exercised.

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But why is it, exactly, that you might get the idea for a heist movie or a new painting while you lift weights or go for a run? What is it about exercising that might make your brain think of so many great ideas?

Well, as ER doctor Jack Springer, MD tells me over email, exercise optimizes brain-body function. "It increases blood flow to the brain, which increases creativity," he explains. "It also causes relaxation due to releases of endorphins, putting us in a more expansive state than an intellectually focused perspective."

And, in a way, that relaxation, says Dr. Howard Jacobson, a psychologist based in South Carolina, actually allows your brain to be more active. "When we're not moving, the brain goes on autopilot," Dr. Jacobson tells Elite Daily. "After all, sitting or lying down must mean that there are no present threats to our survival to deal with, and no opportunities for advancement. We can just chill and relax and recover."

On the other hand, he explains, when we're moving, we have to navigate new landscapes, deal with unforeseen circumstances, and be able to anticipate and recognize unpredictable threats and opportunities. Like burpees, amirite?

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"Our brains are triggered to do their best work when we're moving," Dr. Jacobson adds. "If you've ever sat at your desk for hours trying solve a problem, only to have the answer come to you while walking to your car, or jogging, or in yoga class, you'll be familiar with this phenomenon."

As the old saying goes, move a muscle, change a thought, you know? And there are specific ways to take advantage of this to keep the creativity flowing. According to Dr. Jacobson, not only are movement and exercise important to brain activity, he says the optimal way to achieve creative insights is to actually move through space. Like, outside.

Yes, while any kind of movement can allow you to fantasize and imagine, Dr. Jacobson says being in nature or around people and scenery is even better than an indoor treadmill or gym.

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"Ideally, you walk, hike, jog, or run outside, in nature," the psychologist tells Elite Daily, though he adds that you can also take a quick stroll around your neighborhood, or even around the mall, to just let your mind wander and do its thing. Ultimately, he explains, it's all about letting your mind go, in whatever way seems to work best for you, so just pay attention to what helps you get your imagination going.

"Make it a practice to [exercise]," Dr. Jacbson says, "and simply imagine wonderful, outrageous outcomes you would love to achieve in your life."