As originally appeared on Associations Now.
Next time, try taking a walk.
Walking benefits our bodies in a variety of ways, but it turns out it’s also great for our brains. Studies show walking spurs creativity, which can be a boon for meetings.
Researchers at Stanford University conducted four experiments involving about 180 college students and other adults. The researchers showed participants a variety of objects and asked them to think of various uses for them.
In one of the experiments, participants were 60 percent more creative in their responses when they were walking rather than sitting—and that creativity persisted for several minutes after participants stopped walking. The participants didn’t have to spend hours on their feet to see the benefits, either. They walked or sat for only five to 16 minutes.
“People were creative right away,” said co-author Marily Oppezzo, a postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford University Prevention Research Center. “They spoke more, but they also had more creative ideas. The density of their creativity increased right away.”
Walking meetings can have other benefits, too. The Harvard Business Review recently surveyed 150 working adults and found that those who held walking meetings were more likely to say they were creative in their work and also more likely to indicate deeper engagement.
Perhaps that’s why Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and the late Steve Jobs are said to have enjoyed walking meetings.
Meeting and conference planners who want to create more creative gatherings can give their meetings a boost by choosing locations that are conducive to walking.
Bob Sallis, M.D., a family physician at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California who specializes in the health benefits of physical activity, travels to Indianapolis frequently for meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine.
“I always enjoy going to Indianapolis because it’s so walkable,” he said. “There are nice sidewalks that are safe. Then they have great promenades along the canals. And the convention center offers easy access to all of it.”
Meetings planners should look for cities with several different kinds of walking-meeting routes around the conference area.
Researchers are still trying to determine exactly how walking makes us more creative. One theory is that the activity simply relaxes our filters.
Said Oppezzo, “More ideas that you might subliminally squelch can pop up while you’re walking.” Whatever the reason, the research is convincing: If your meetings could benefit from a fresh perspective—and whose couldn’t?—go for a walk.