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.

Black and white image of man with one eye closed focused and thinking with an abstract doodle drawn to illustrate his creative thoughts.
Pushing through physical barriers can begin with breaking down the mental ones. And vice-versa. ©iStockphoto.com/DonBayley

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.”

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

A man is leaping between two high walls of a building with a the sky filled with abstract doodles to illustrate the athlete's out-of-the-box thinking.
The size of an obstacle is really a matter of perception. ©iStockphoto.com/imacoconut

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

Woman running against a cement backdrop.
Running can provide clarity that a sedentary state will never reach.

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

Hands in a puff of a chalk cloud a pair of hands reaches for a kettle bell.
"Weightlifting can help you become more aware and precise when learning or investigating new concepts." ©iStockphoto.com/ilbusca

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.

Let me know what sport boosts your creativity in the comments below.

TAKE A DEEP DIVE INTO OUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREATIVITY

Creativity requires focus, passion and above all, practice- take it from those who know.

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by Jeremy Solly 09.11.2017
I think another important and related concept is that of the "flow state" - that moment when your brain gets out of the way of you doing your work and you just execute something so well practically on muscle memory. It often happens as we are engaged as sport, so lets use that same activity in our creative work!
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by Orian Tal Jeremy Solly 21.11.2017
Hey Jeremy,

That's definitely a very interesting anecdote and a good idea for a followup post. It's also evidence based!

http://time.com/56809/the-science-of-peak-human-performance/

Cheers,

Orian
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by Sean James 09.11.2017
This was a great article. For me the run/walk has always been the best way for me to generate creativity in myself. I I must say that parkour would be an interesting.
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by Orian Tal Sean James 15.11.2017
Happy to hear you've enjoyed it! Running and walking are awesome activities, too.

Re parkour: I have to admit it's been a long while since I gave it a try, but Parkour is an amazing sport, but has to be learned from the basics in a safe gymanstic environment.
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by Leticia 10.11.2017
Sports clear our minds and give space for brand new ideas.
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by Orian Leticia 15.11.2017
Definitely! What's your favorite activity for creativity generation, Leticia?
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by Neelish 21.11.2017
I've been trying to turn my lifestyle around over the last 2 years; and I can honestly say increased physical activity in the first instance gave me more energy, more endurance and made me more perceptive - at work.

Now I've been cycling to work, lifting bigger weights and running for an hour up hills, without stopping, I find workplace challenges phase me less, and I am more proactive and assertive in the team environment. Despite my sporting pursuits being very individual, the challenge and physical accomplishment allows me to take on challenges in the workplace.
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