We all have a reason for working our bodies the way we do.
Some of us are adrenaline junkies, looking to get a kick out of surviving a muddy obstacle race while drenched in sweat and filth. Others might look for aesthetics – a better physique so as to build their confidence. And then there are those that are all about performance; that engage in grueling, taxing workouts that push the envelope on what they thought they could achieve.
Physical activity makes us happier and energetic, while supercharging our immune system. Along with all the other preachy stuff we tend to throw around when we try to get buddies to come along with us for a workout.
But how does all this change us in the long term, beyond what we already know? What are the other, lesser known benefits of being physically active?
Let's talk Creativity.
Creativity and the Sports Contradiction
Renowned UK sport psychologist Wayne Goldsmith wisely said: “Sports is a contradiction. On one hand, we freely use words like ‘excellence’ and ‘success’ and phrases like ‘breaking the barriers’ and ‘setting new limits’ to describe sports performance, yet sport by its nature is inherently conservative.”
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Sports are inherently conservative since most are composed of rigid movement patterns and modalities that tend to be repetitive in nature. And that is why it isn’t exactly intuitive to consider that sports can make us look at things differently, thereby sparking the creative soul that is within us.
Here are a few examples of specific sporting activities which change us in a way that can affect our creativity:
1. Improve your imaginative power and perception with parkour
Parkour, the martial arts/gymnastics hybrid movement which broke out into the mainstream media in the 2000s, can alter the Traceur’s (parkour practitioner) perception of real-life obstacles.
The Parkour method, inspired by military obstacle courses, involves traversing complex urban landscapes in the most efficient way possible. This usually comes in the form of vaulting, jumping and climbing various obstacles.
In a 2011 study, Parkour novices perceived walls as taller than they were – while experienced Traceurs managed to judge the wall length more accurately. This is a result of an enhanced sense of action-specific perception; in other words: just knowing they can traverse a tall wall affects the way they perceive it.
This goes hand-in-hand with the testimonies describing the sport as consciousness altering: “Your body has always been on autopilot, and you’ve discovered for the first time that you are able to control it…. it’s a sport that permits exploration of the potential offered by your body.”
Another effect of Parkour training, is documented within Jeffery L. Kidder’s latest book ‘Parkour and the City: Risk, Masculinity, and Meaning in a Postmodern Sport’: “I would say parkour’s a lifestyle. […] It doesn’t matter where you go. […] You see the roofs [of buildings]. Your imagination creates ways [for] how you would go through these roofs by using parkour. … would just look at these roofs, and their imagination wouldn’t do anything with that.”
Parkour athletes benefit from improved imagination due to the nature of their sport, which requires them to carefully navigate dense urban jungles. Their constant struggle with obstacles makes them perceive these as temporary hindrances, and generally regard them as not so challenging as an untrained mind would think.
2. Walk/run your way to a clear mind
An oldie but still a goodie. Walking and running are two aerobic activities which are known to elicit endorphin production. This triggers all sorts of favorable sensations within our bodies.
A 2014 study performed at Stanford University concluded that we’re 60% more creative when we walk. It’s that simple – you can just walk yourself to a new level of creative thinking. It doesn’t have to be outdoors specifically, by the way – even a simple treadmill walk can help you come up with a ‘Eureka!’ moment.
Steve Jobs was known to frequently conduct walk meetings as well, while swearing by their benefits to his productivity and thinking. So maybe you should do the same?
3. Re-connect with your mind through regular weightlifting
The pull, and the gentle sound of plates rearranging on the bar – heavy lifting doesn’t just look and feel good. Weightlifting has actually been proven to trigger some interesting processes within our brains.
A 2012 study showed that cortical activity increases in correlation with varying levels of loading. Explosive, powerful movements have been found to work the largest amount of motor units at once. This causes an improved mind-body connection.
Weightlifting movements require a high degree of proprioception due to their compound nature and overall complexity. This essentially means that you have to dig deeper, and drill heavily to get the technique right.
Due to the complex nature of the sport – the process of learning it can help you get re-acquainted with your body. Weightlifting can also help you become more aware and precise when learning or investigating new concepts.
Here’s hoping we’ve now given you three new sports to try, and three more reasons to do fitness.