December 18, 2012

CEOs Should Take a Hike

Time spent in nature, even just a walk in the park, not only helps you decompress, it actually improves your problem-solving abilities.

We've all experienced the sense of quiet and the majesty of something far bigger than ourselves that spending time in nature can give us. So it may not be surprising to find that a group of backpackers who took a creativity test after a four-day hike without electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and MP3 players scored 50 percent better on a test of creative problem solving compared to another group who took the test before starting the hike.

So if you need to find some inspiration when working on a project, or just want to clear your head, get out and take a walk. David Strayer and his colleagues found that spending time in nature, disconnected from technology offers the opportunity for a number of health benefits in addition to improving creative thinking, such as lower stress, better cognitive function, and greater preserved brain matter in older adults.

Brain imaging studies have found that as people let their minds wander, not multitasking, but going with the mental flow so to speak, their creativity is enhanced.

You don't have to go on a safari, climb a mountain, or head for the beach to benefit from Mother Nature, Strayer tells The Doctor, “In many situations, people have the ability to get out and take some kind of hike or walk in a residential area or a city park where there are trees, or maybe a brook or stream.” If you do not have the luxury of a 3- to 5-day trip, you can get benefits from going on a short hike or even just going to a park for an hour 3 or 4 days per week.

Strayer points out that even though the land given over to Central Park in Manhattan represents expensive real estate, and from a purely business perspective, building on it would make individuals a lot of money, “…They preserve and aggressively protect [it] because it is restorative. It is a small piece of nature in a densely urban environment.”

The investigators, from the University of Utah and the University of Kansas, are planning to study how much time spent in nature is necessary to reap the benefits of enhanced creativity. “We have replicated the pattern that was reported in the paper a few times now, so we know it is a consistent pattern. Now we want to see if we could use that understanding to determine how much nature is beneficial,” Strayer says.

In the spring he and his team want to use portable electroencephalograph (EEG) equipment, which measures electrical activity in the brain, to see if they can observe changes in the EEG that are associated with a relaxed state in the frontal lobe of the brain. Such evidence would support brain imaging studies that found as people let their minds wander, and they are not multitasking, but going with the mental flow so to speak, their creativity is enhanced.

The study was published online recently in the journal, PLOS One.

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