A couple of weeks ago, I explored the importance of sleep to creative problem solving.
As important, if not more, is exercise. According to Gretchen Reynolds, in the April 18 New York Times, exercise helps to enhance creative thinking:
Last year a team of researchers led by Justin S. Rhodes, a psychology professor at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, gathered four groups of mice and set them into four distinct living arrangements. One group lived in a world of sensual and gustatory plenty, dining on nuts, fruits and cheeses, their food occasionally dusted with cinnamon, all of it washed down with variously flavored waters. Their “beds” were colorful plastic igloos occupying one corner of the cage. Neon-hued balls, plastic tunnels, nibble-able blocks, mirrors and seesaws filled other parts of the cage. Group 2 had access to all of these pleasures, plus they had small disc-shaped running wheels in their cages. A third group’s cages held no embellishments, and they received standard, dull kibble. And the fourth group’s homes contained the running wheels but no other toys or treats.
All the animals completed a series of cognitive tests at the start of the study and were injected with a substance that allows scientists to track changes in their brain structures. Then they ran, played or, if their environment was unenriched, lolled about in their cages for several months.
Afterward, Rhodes’s team put the mice through the same cognitive tests and examined brain tissues. It turned out that the toys and tastes, no matter how stimulating, had not improved the animals’ brains.
Reynolds also notes that exercise does not have to be exhausting. Simply engaging in something like walking enriched one's hippocampus.“Only one thing had mattered,” Rhodes says, “and that’s whether they had a running wheel.” Animals that exercised, whether or not they had any other enrichments in their cages, had healthier brains and performed significantly better on cognitive tests than the other mice. Animals that didn’t run, no matter how enriched their world was otherwise, did not improve their brainpower in the complex, lasting ways that Rhodes’s team was studying. “They loved the toys,” Rhodes says, and the mice rarely ventured into the empty, quieter portions of their cages. But unless they also exercised, they did not become smarter.
Perhaps my elementary school teachers were on to something when we started calisthenics at the start of the school day.
However, with the need for exercise and naps (and even a drink now and then), when will work fit in?