Although it might at first appear counter-intuitive, bursts in productivity and plowing through obstacles, such as writer’s block, are often found in work outside the creative sphere. Regularly stepping away from a project and making room for physical exertion is not only good advice from a balance perspective, but extremely important for overall health and — here’s the added bonus — critical for creative problem solving.

The health benefits of regular exercise are well understood. Examples include, improved immune function, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers, and mental health benefits such attenuation in anxiety/depression and improved sense of well-being. These examples are but the tip of the iceberg and the positive health effects of exercise is a topic I’ve studied for decades. I’ll write more in subsequent blogs but for now I want to focus on the creative problem-solving benefits of regular exercise.

Consider the following anecdote:

I just couldn’t figure out where to take the story next. Frustrated, I gave up, shut down the computer, and went on a trail run. Breathing hard, I pushed the pace, trying not to trip on the roots and the slick spots. The run was so consuming, I could think of nothing else besides the cadence and the next bend in the trail. When I finished and warmed down, the solution to my conundrum hit me like a brick — and it was brilliant.

I’ve definitely had this happen to me, and I’m not alone. During my professional career as a physician, I’ve spoken with hundreds of people who’ve shared similar experiences. People in vastly different careers, with vastly different problems, from neurosurgeons to musicians (who are about as far apart of the creative spectrum as you can get).

It’s not a trick. It’s something our brains are hardwired to do. The only secret is to allow it to happen by placing yourself to take advantage of it.

And that means making exercise a regular part of your routine. This task has become more challenging in the current COVID-environment, but fortunately the type of exercise doesn’t seem to matter, it just needs to be intense enough to get one’s heart rate up and clear the mind. Writers, programmers, musicians, scientists, and artists can all benefit from this regular investment in creativity and health.

So get out there, and let those subconscious sub-processors work their magic. Enjoy the creative burst; you’ve earned it.