FEATURE: Running on Empty: Exercise and the Benefit on the Creative Mind



Running on Empty


ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash 

Exercise and the Benefit on the Creative Mind


WITH the weather changing…


and the sun staying out for longer, there is hope the coldest temperatures are behind us and we will have more sustained periods of warmth. The weather is still changeable and unpredictable – being Britain, we are never too far away from some miserable downpours - but there is a great chance to improve the mood and capitalise on the clement conditions. It is Mental Health Awareness Week, and so, there are many talking about their experiences and how mental illness affects them. Musicians, especially, are prone to mental-health struggles and are under a lot of stress. I am reading so many stories of working endless hours and pushing themselves to unhealthy lengths. The hotter the weather gets, the more (musicians) are prone to widening their ambitions and planning for festivals. That push and drive might take the form of increased gigs or more time on the Internet, contacting venues and getting warm-up gigs booked. I am in a position where I have a new (temporary) job where I will have less time available to review and interview musicians – something that has given me a lot of fulfilment. I will not get a lot of time to be outside and will spend most of my days/hours in an office. I feel we are all spending too much time locked away and not really getting out there.


Maybe longer working hours and the cost of a night out means we are keeping ourselves inside and cloistered. Even if we have some spare time at the weekend, I wonder how many hours we spend outside and getting into the open. I mentioned musicians and wanted to write this piece because of the effects of exercise and physical activity on the creative process. We are all more stressed and in-demand so it is natural we would spend any free time unwinding and chilling: expending more energy seems counterintuitive and a struggle. There are articles available that explain and prove the link between exercise and creativity:

Feeling good is not trivial. By necessity, studies hew to the quantifiable aspects of the relationship between exercise and creativity, namely defined types of cognition. But creativity, itself a fuzzy term, flourishes in ways that go well beyond divergent or convergent thinking. Certain emotional states, such as feeling good—and thus having low anxiety and fear—helps induce the flow states that are foundational to creative work…And scientists would do well to listen. Because, although the number of artists regularly exercising may not fill a yoga class, those who do illuminate many aspects of creativity that remain unstudied. Beyond mental dexterity, they tell us that creativity thrives when there is emotional balance, models for practice, and an array of tools at hand, not to mention ideas in which the muscles, too, can revel”.


A 2013 article explained on the premise and offered another angle:

Specifically, researchers noted that regular exercise seems to be associated with improved divergent and convergent thinking, which are considered the two components of creative thinking; the former involves thinking of multiple solutions for one problem, while the latter involves thinking of one solution for a problem.

“Exercising on a regular basis may thus act as a cognitive enhancer promoting creativityin inexpensive and healthy ways,” study researcher Lorenza Colzato, a cognitive psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said in a statement”.

Maybe these findings and facts are not new to us at all. What is known is that regular exercise can aid creativity and lead to clarity and a less stressful mind. If one balances the benefits on the creative mind and the nourishment exercise gives to the body, then we can all justify getting out there and being more active. It does have to be anything as full-on as running and long distances: a brisk walk or routine trek around the block can do wonders. Dedicating a set amount of time each day can get the body moving, mind cleared and the creativity part of the brain working and imagining. Many might argue it is hard to commit to regular exercise and it is hard finding time from their busy schedules. I guess, in many ways, one does not have to leave the house to get some exercise – it might be smutty and explicit, but we can all understand where that train of thought is heading…


What we are all exposed to, in the music world, is an overload of information and a cyber lifestyle. If we are not browsing and glued to phones for most of the day; we are on the laptop working on stuff and on social media. Away from eating and sleeping; are we all getting sufficient exercise and air? One can argue the health risks, for anyone, of spending too much time indoors. Forget the serotonin and mental benefits: ensuring we are physical activity means we can maintain a healthy weight and do not get into bad habits. If we become too isolated and do not exercise then that can have devastating effects on our general health and wellbeing. Music is as physical a job as any out there and (during gigs) requires a lot of energy and physical commitment. In order to maintain a level of fitness that means gigs are not daunting and a shock to the system; it is prudent to get into a regular cycle of exercise to ensure the muscles are kept trained and healthy – so they do not atrophy and cramp. That may sound extreme but the workout and level of commitment need not be that daunting. Rather than running a few miles each day; perhaps walking a couple of miles a day would be a good compromise – getting into the good weather and finding time to detach from all the strains and information of the music business.


I feel musicians, as I said, are under undue pressure and tend to spend too much time online and lacking necessary energy to exercise and take some time out. The multiple benefits of regular activity and exercise are clear: the creative mind is sharpened and the body is afforded care it needs. We are talking about mental illness and stress and cannot do so without recognising exercise and sunshine. I know something that simple is not going to cure depression and provide a cure for anxiety – mental illness is complex and there are a number of things that need to be considered when affecting a cure and solution. It is a perfect time of year to get into a better headspace and promise yourself more time outside. It is hard juggling the online demands and mustering enough energy to get up and remain active. Maybe starting off with a few days a week of fairly strenuous activity and it is a positive step in the right direction. It is wonderful what a brief amount of time out in the warmer weather can do to the mind. Not only is the mood lifted but that creative region is stimulated and primed; the body is touched and every part of you is engaged. If you can throw in a social aspect then that is so much better.


Mixing sociability with exercise, even for a little time each week, can improve mental-health and, if you can form a routine, it is a great balance between time inside/online and being outside in the fresh air. We are all looking about for ideas and solutions when it comes to the mental-health crisis that is before us. There is no single cure for everyone – something as mundane and simple as physical exercise is going to be the answer. Rather than see it as a ‘magic elixir’ then consider it one of the steps to a more improved and healthier mind. There are many I know who have suffered from depression and other mental illnesses and found their mood has been lifted immeasurably by regular exercise. I shall end things here but wanted to urge people in the industry – and in the general public – to have a look at how much exercise they get and how much time they spend inside. We could all probably stand to do a bit more and earmark more time to unwinding away from our screens. It is getting warmer and the days are growing longer: a fantastic opportunity to stretch the legs and blow away the cobwebs. It isn’t a hard-and-fast-rule but the benefits of exercise are proven and are especially helpful to those in an industry like music. Not only does it help you get match-fit and stimulate the creative part of your brain; it helps improve mental wellbeing and can lead a much…