Fifteen minutes of productive writing time that is. Turns out our creativity is intimately intertwined with our physical health and well-being.
How wrong we were when we believed in the separation of body and brain. When I was a kid, the prevailing view was that not only were intelligence and physical prowess separate, they were mutually exclusive. Men could have brains or brawn, but not both. A woman could be beautiful or she could be smart.
I was a competitive kid, but I was also slightly overweight and on the uncoordinated side. My physical inadequacies were heightened in contrast with my best friend, Shirley, who was blonde, slender and athletic. She looked good in a swimsuit; I looked dumpy. So I decided to be the brains of the outfit. Not that Shirley was dumb, I was just smarter (even when I wasn’t). Is it any surprise that when we were in our twenties, I was a computer programmer and Shirley was a ski instructor in Veil?
Say It Isn’t So
Most of my life, I’ve invested my self-worth in being smart and creative. So you can imagine how disillusioned I was to discover (from reading some of those wonderful, brain-enhancing books I love so much) that my intelligence, memory, mental agility and creativity all depend on my body being healthy and fit!
The bad news is we can’t just content ourselves with being smart and creative; we have to be healthy, too. Trust me on this; I was disinclined to believe it, so I checked the research closely.
The good news is that healthy doesn’t depend on the kinds of things we did in gym class (a big relief to those of us who squeaked through gym on attendance, in other words. by being willing to show up for regular humiliation).
The Research Says…
According to John J. Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, the point of exercise is not to improve your body (although that’s a nice side effect), the point is to improve the brain.
The brain is a glutton for oxygen and glucose. While accounting for only 3% of the body’s mass, the brain consumes up to 20% of the body’s energy. Exercise improves blood flow, which carries oxygen, throughout the entire body. The better the blood flow, the better your brain functions.
Exercise also triggers the release of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which Ratey calls “Miracle-Gro for the brain” because it significantly increases the growth of new neurons and denser, more complex neural pathways.
We evolved to engage our brains when we move. (When our ancestors weren’t moving, they wouldn’t encounter either threats or food and other resources, so they didn’t need their brain to be operating at peak efficiency. The brain is a glutton, but it’s a smart glutton that knows when to power-down.) If you’re not moving regularly, your brain gets sluggish.
Writers need to make time for regular exercise. The more healthy, strong and flexible your body is, the more innovative, focused and agile your brain is.
Research suggests that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise as little as 2 or 3 times a week is beneficial. Five or 6 times a week is even more so. Combining aerobic workouts with strength-training and activities that require complex motor skills (e.g. martial arts, rock-climbing, dog agility, mountain biking) will maximize both the body and brain benefits. Consult with a personal trainer or Ratey’s Spark for more info.
The next time you feel stuck or can’t figure out where to go next with your writing, move! Take a walk or do something else active; your brain will get into gear when your feet do.
Recognize the thought “I don’t have time to take a walk” for the fallacy it is. If you have time to sit there agonizing over what to do next, you have time to walk. And the sooner you get up and move, the sooner you’ll get your next great idea.
If you’d rather, you can, in the words of the gym teachers we used to dread, “Drop and give me 15 push-ups.” Whatever you choose – push-ups, treadmill, walk around the lake, yoga, Pilates, weight training or something else – the time you invest in physical activity will improve the quality of – and put the magic in – your 15 Magic Minutes of writing.