A few years ago, I had the privilege to be a stay at home mom after my son was born. I enjoyed that first year, seeing him grow every day, getting the chance to try out new cooking skills, and having the time to take care of the house. The only thing that flat out sucked was the fact I had no income. Or, I should say, no income that was mine and had been earned by me. My husband and I decided to send our son to daycare after he turned 18 months, thinking the socialization would be good for him and thus freeing me up to search for a new job. We agreed my job search would only last three months – if nothing came to fruition, I would go back to being a stay-at-home mom. That three months turned into a year. Well…eleven months, to be exact. We kept my son in daycare, having realized that once you secured a spot, you didn’t let it go, and I did all I could to cut spending corners, which included learning to make meals from scratch. Now, you may be thinking this post is all about that – my love of cooking – but it’s not. My goal for this blog is to keep it as creative and design-focused as possible, and while cooking is a creative task, my culinary skills have fallen by the wayside since returning to work and school. For this post, I wanted to explore something I discovered while I was unemployed: how exercise boosts creativity.
I will be the first to tell you, I haven’t been a big fan of exercise since I was about twelve. But when you’re sitting at home, staring at the same four walls day in and day out, what else is there to do (that doesn’t cost money)? Not even a month into my new daytime solitude routine and I was already bored. I had the house in order, had browsed job boards and submitted my resume, picked up the groceries and planned meals, and I had nothing left to do. Nothing could be improved upon. Except for one thing: me.
I’m not exactly a model of health; I used to think running for fun was the biggest lie ever told. But I’ve also never been able to sit still for more than a two-hour stretch (unless I’m really involved in whatever I’m working on). Even now at work, I am constantly up and down, stretching my legs, my back, going to get a drink from the water fountain even though I have my trusty bottle of water right beside me. I. Just. Can’t. Do it. I have to be moving. Sitting at home with nothing to do was not my cup of tea, so I went for a walk around my neighborhood. That was fun, I thought. Next time, I’ll bring my iPod. Even better. The next time, I think I’ll wear exercise clothes – some of those songs would be fun to run to. And that’s how it started. I didn’t start exercising purely for the sake of it, though I knew I needed to be more active than I currently was. I just decided to do it and see what would happen. My morning walk/run became a part of my routine, and I built upon that. Once running circuits around my neighborhood started to bore me, I looked for other places to run. I found a park in Smithfield that became my go-to place. I never got tired of it. Sometimes I would set up challenges for myself – how many miles or how many songs could I run through without tiring – but most of the time I simply enjoyed the nature around me.
While the music blared between my ears and my feet pounded the earth, I noticed I started getting ideas seemingly out of the blue. Things started creeping into my head — ideas for stories, paintings, photographs. Was I just imagining it, or could there be a correlation between exercise and creativity? According to neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, there just might be – and we have our hippocampus to thank for it. The hippocampus is one of just two parts of our brain that continues to generate new brain cells throughout our lifetime. Primarily associated with long-term memory, the hippocampus may also play a role in enabling people to “imagine new situations,” according to Suzuki. Exercising helps speed up the birth of new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, and this growth could be beneficial for creativity. There’s not a whole lot of data to support the hypothesis just yet, but it’s something I noticed — and something writer Haruki Murakami noticed as well.
However, now that I am employed and going to school full-time, I don’t have as much time for exercise. But if I do find myself with an extra thirty minutes to spare, I try to squeeze in a nice walk or yoga session to clear my mind and give my brain a potential creative boost.