Living a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising is the key to lowering your cancer risk, preventing heart disease, reducing your chances of developing diabetes, etc., etc., etc. Every time I write an article about a health condition, the experts tell me the answer to lowering my risk lies in lifestyle changes. But I’ll be honest, this isn’t my main motivation for eating healthy and working out.
Yes, when I take care of myself, I just plain feel better. But there’s another side effect, too. I’m more productive and creative. It might sound silly, but it’s true. And it turns out there is some research to support why I feel this way. In fact, there appears to be a circular loop between healthy living and creativity.
So if you’re feeling like you’re losing your creative edge and the usual ideas for inspiring yourself aren’t working, try focusing on your physical health.
1. Get enough sleep.
No one performs well when they are sleep deprived. I personally do best with eight to nine hours of sleep at night. Before you go rolling your eyes wondering how you’ll ever get that much sleep every night, you won’t. Just like I don’t. But awareness is the first step. And your magic number of sleep hours may be different than mine. Perhaps you only need six to seven to be your best self. (If that’s the case, I envy you.)
In any event, you’ve got to protect the sleep you require as best you can. I’ve been guilty — as I’m sure we all have — of trying to eke out one more blog post or finish a podcast script late at night, thinking if I can just get this one last task done before the end of the day, I will feel great. But when I pause to consider what I’m doing — to my body, my brain and my blog — I recognize that when I take the time to rest and start fresh, everything flows better and faster.
In fact, there’s research that suggests that the two main sleep phases (REM and non-REM) are linked to creativity. So, strive to get the amount of sleep you need, and you may find yourself flying through your to-do list tomorrow.
2. Eat less sugar. And more veggies!
Even if you’re like me and you prefer savory snacks to sweet ones, I’ve got some bad news. Chances are you consume too much sugar, as most Americans do. And we’re not talking about just a little too much sugar here. We’re talking two to three times the amount of sugar we should be consuming, according to SugarScience, the “authoritative source for the scientific evidence about sugar and its impact on health” from University of California, San Francisco (because, yes, it’s that bad that we Americans need an authoritative source on sugar).
All that sugar is wreaking havoc on our health — our cognitive health included. UCLA researchers found in a 2016 study that fructose, one of the most common sugar additives in the American diet, slowed brain activity and impaired memory function. On the other hand, the study showed that omega-3 fatty acid DHA seemed to reverse those effects.
Moreover, there is some research that indicates eating fruits and vegetables can help boost your creativity. Anecdotally, I know when I focus on veggies, fruit and meat as the core of my diet and limit my sugar intake, my brain feels clearer. I have more physical and creative energy.
3. Move your body.
Any type of exercise that gets your blood pumping is good for not only your mood and energy level but also your creativity. But walking will suffice, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. So the next time you’re stumped for a solution or in need of a brilliant story idea, hop on a treadmill. Better yet, take your problem-solving to the pavement. The same study indicated that walking outdoors offers an even bigger boost in creativity.
I noticed long before I came across that study that I benefit more from outdoor walks as opposed to treadmill walks. Probably because nature is good for creativity too! And while every expert under the sun will suggest exercising with a friend for accountability’s sake, I prefer to go it solo so that I may use the time to truly clear my head. Limiting my phone time during exercise (this is one of the joys of a great yoga class for me) helps too.
4. Breathe and meditate.
I have learned a lot about meditation this past year, including that research suggests meditation can stimulate creativity. And while I struggle to maintain a meditation habit, I do feel better and more prepared for the day when I take 20 minutes in the morning to sit with my thoughts. If you’re the type of person who needs more direction than that, try one of these types of meditation, such as movement, focused or chanting meditation.
Make Time for Creativity
It’s pretty clear that healthy living can inspire creativity, but what’s really interesting is that creativity is good for your health, too. So, whether you are a writer, sculptor, painter, musician, chef or poet, making space in your life for the things that you’re creatively passionate about is good — and good for you. Make time for being healthy along with being creative to keep this beautiful cycle going.
What helps YOU be creative? Share your experiences and opinions. We might even inquire about featuring you and your advice in a future e-book.