Walking and the Creative Brain

“Walking is man’s best medicine.”

These words, uttered by Hippocrates, are certainly true on a physical level, as regular brisk walking helps in maintaining a healthy weight, prevents or helps manage heart disease, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes, strengthens bones and muscles, alleviates stress, and improves balance and coordination. Even more interestingly, new research continues to show that walking is especially important to boost creativity.

From Hippocrates to Tesla and Steve Jobs

In a study published in 2014, researchers from Stanford University found that walking boosts creative output by 60%, allowing college students participating in the study to enhance their “divergent thinking”, a key element in truly creative cognition.

Indeed, walking has been associated with many a great creative genius: Steve Jobs was known for his “walking meetings” with business associates at Apple, especially when creative problem solving was required. Nikola Tesla, the genius mind behind alternating current (AC) electric system and the Tesla coil used in radio systems, took long daily walks and claimed to have formed his ideas during these strolls before committing anything to paper. Other creative minds in the fields of literature, philosophy, biology, physics, mathematics, and music to name a few, made walking a daily activity that enhances their creativity and problem-solving abilities, while boosting their morale and positive emotions.

Walking, Creativity, and the Cognitive Pause

The reason behind this link between walking and creativity is not completely clear at the moment. Yet, a growing body of evidence from behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and medicine has resulted in some interesting theories. Scientists know that walking requires the simultaneous use and activation of multiple regions in the brain that are needed to coordinate our movements and maintain balance while we walk.  A study from 2016 speculates that complex human cognition, and our ability to innovate, developed right along with the ability to walk. In other words, the complex brain structures needed for walking allowed humans to develop increasingly sophisticated ways of thinking. This connection could therefore be the reason that when we go for a walk, we indirectly activate regions necessary for sophisticated cognitive processing, thus leading to innovative, creative ideas!

Walking may also induce creativity through its ability to induce what we refer to as the “cognitive pause”. To understand what the “cognitive pause” is, imagine yourself stuck on finding the right answer in an exam or for a complex problem at work. Your best chance of getting over your incapacity to find a solution after deep and prolonged thinking is to step out and take a break. That is when we experience the Eureka moments. This “pause” is necessary for creative thinking since it allows the brain to free itself from preconceptions and specific patterns of thinking. The cognitive pause requires relaxation of the mind, letting go of the problem at hand, something that walking is perfectly capable of doing.

Walking, Meditation, and Creative Thinking

Walking is similar to another activity that is also known to enhance creativity: meditation. In fact, walking is naturally meditative because it is relaxing, boosting our endorphins and anti-inflammatory cytokines, releasing tension from the muscles, and distracting the mind from other cognitive tasks. Walking is also a rhythmic activity, which is known to lower brainwave frequency in a manner that is identical to meditation. Walking and meditation both keep our brains in an alpha-brainwave state, which appears to be the best state for creative thought.

And so, the next time you need a creative solution to a problem, scientific research suggests that you should let it go, relax, and go for a walk. Friedrich Nietzsche was not mistaken when he claimed, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”.

*This article appears in Health & Wellness magazine’s July issue

** This is part one of a series of articles appearing in Health & Wellness magazine on the topic of creativity, neuroscience, and mindfulness

Establishing a Pioneering Wellness Network in Lebanon

The culture of wellness has emerged in recent years as a novel concept that is rooted in the discoveries in health sciences and research showing that human well-being is more holistic and interconnected than previously assumed. While this concept is new in Western societies, our traditions and heritage in the East (and in collectivist societies in general) has innately understood the importance of living a well-rounded life that is based on social responsibility, close-knit communities, spiritual purity, mental fortitude, and physical strength. By fully endorsing these concepts, and with a sense of public service that is at the heart of its mission, the Modern University for Business & Science (MUBS) established the National Wellness Network (NWN) as a platform to promote wellness and preventive healthcare.

The Network works with specialized multi-disciplinary teams to coordinate awareness campaigns, collect data, explore new avenues of assistance, and offer customized healthcare solutions to Lebanese communities throughout the country. By being an extension of the University, and a manifestation of its mission of social service and responsibility, NWN offers optimal access to healthcare facilities and leading experts with vast knowledge. The Network works closely with community leaders, non-governmental organizations, and the public sector, striving to bridge the gap between research and practice. NWN offers a platform for its students, faculty, and partners to work in the field with the public, mostly in under-served areas, to improve their livelihood, well-being, and their health.

By introducing new lifestyle concepts in the everyday lives of Lebanese citizens of all ages, NWN stands out as a unique model in the Middle East region, where higher education institutions are more focused on in-class learning, and tend to dissociate themselves from the surrounding community and its needs. In contrast, NWN and MUBS are built with the needs of the community at their core and with an eye on serving the students, their parents, and their communities.

The Network strives to promote the Eight Dimensions of Wellness: Intellectual, Medical, Nutritional, Physical, Environmental, Spiritual, Psychological, and Social Wellbeing. These eight dimensions are at the core of the Network’s management spirit to promote and develop wellness programs, and to incorporate them into everyday life as sustainable habits and way of living that integrates a culture of health and fitness to educate, motivate, and empower the community to adopt a healthier lifestyle to fulfill academic, occupational, and personal goals.

As an ambassador institution of the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), NWN is building a multinational network of organizations with a shared vision and a common goal to empower citizens and help them achieve a more fulfilling life. Towards that end, NWN has been joined by over 35 organizations in Lebanon and boasts a board of directors that includes community leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers, and public figures to guide its work and the accomplishment of its mission.

NWN also offers onsite services that are accessible by the public, free of charge or for symbolic fees. These services are located in MUBS campuses, and include:

  • Physical Therapy Centers
  • Sports and Fitness Centers
  • Education and Awareness Centers
  • Social Work Center & Seniors Lounge
  • Wellness & Ecotourism Center
  • Clinics
    • Nutrition and Dietetics Clinics
    • Optometry Clinics
    • Specialized Medical Clinics

Happiness: Creating, Fostering & Spreading the Cheer

We live in a time of unprecedented stress. We are bombarded by stressors every minute of every day of our lives, be that on the professional or the personal level. As we celebrate the International Day of Happiness, the question of maintaining a sense of balance and content becomes vital for our emotional and physical well-being.
The fact that the United Nations had to dedicate an international day to celebrate an emotion that should be the essence of our existence is a clear sign of the times. That did not go unnoticed by governments around the world, with some going as far as forming cabinets centered around creating happiness, and dedicating ministries to spreading and maximizing happiness in society (a prominent example is the UAE).
Moreover, an emerging field of research is thriving as scientists investigate factors that create happiness. Early signs and data are reassuring. Happiness seems to stem from within, albeit a conscious effort should be made under certain circumstances to attain it. The research reports that wealth and happiness are not directly correlated. Additionally, happiness and positive thinking are not dictated by nature or nurture alone, meaning that, while our genes and our upbringing play a role in setting our perspective in life, conscious effort is critical for determining our happiness levels.
One interesting finding, for example, is the role empathy plays in generating happiness. Apparently, by sharing feelings of others, we become more fulfilled individuals. A healthier and happier community, therefore, is a more empathetic and humane community.

The Power of Empathy: Creating Better Leaders & Educators

Dr. Bob Sornson, the acclaimed leader in education, asserts that: “Empathy is the heart of a great classroom culture.”

Indeed, recent studies show that the most successful classrooms are those designed around the needs of students, and that the most effective teachers are those that start their journey by asking the question: “what do my students need?” In the digital age, customization has become easier than ever as technology allows us to customize lessons to the abilities of individual learners.

Empathy leads to trust, positive relationships and understanding. The power of empathy extends beyond the classroom and benefits the community as a whole. In a globalized world and in heterogeneous communities formed by a mosaic of cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, empathy is essential to forming positive relationships built on trust and understanding.

What we know about empathy includes a very important fact: it gives birth to great leaders, whose understanding of the needs, aspirations, and circumstances of those who follow them is essential. This is how leaders make their team members feel valued and appreciated. This validation, and the ability to understand and share the feelings of others is at the heart of great communities and organizations.

New Roles for Technology in Education and Learning

In a recent lecture presented at Stanford University in the United States, leading researcher in the field of education, Professor Candace Thille discussed the latest findings in learning research and the use of technology in higher education.

The classical answers are:

  1. Increased access and convenience (the MOOCS argument)
  2. Simulation (learning from online/digital resources and models)
  3. Connection and crowd-sourcing (connectivity, internet, and interaction)

While these are indeed important advantages to technological advancements, the new approach in learning goes further to offer educators and learners additional and critical new breakthroughs in their educational journey.

Learning from leading Silicon Valley firms whose business models depends on large data and customer behavior, educational institutions of the future will utilize technology to learn about the learners. The interface would allow instructors and institutions to observe, collect data, and understand the needs, habits, strengths, and weaknesses of the student, allowing us to serve him/her better.

Collecting student interaction data in such a set up will drive powerful feedback loops to multiple actors in the teaching and learning system. Such loops would inform the learner, the teacher, the designers of the technology, and the researchers of science of learning.

As an educational institution that is founded on science and that prides itself in bringing research to practice,  is involved in studies and projects that develop such platforms and interfaces. We would be happy to answer your questions in this regard.

To watch the full video, refer to this link.