People are often surprised when they ask me how I go about writing a novel and I answer that my first step is taking a really long run, bike ride, or inline skating jaunt along the beautiful bosque trail in my hometown of Albuquerque. “What?” their eyes seem to ask. “You mean you don’t, like, write endless outlines, or drink copious amounts of wine, like other writers?”
Of course I do those things, too. But I start with a good, hard workout. Some people say they get their best ideas while driving, or in the shower. I get mine while exercising.
It has been this way for me as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, I rode my bike to school – a round trip of about 15 miles each day – and listened to lots of music on headphones as I did it. That’s when I first began writing stories, poems, books. The long rides – and on weekends I’d go 50, 60 miles at a pop – were magical, connecting me to what felt like something much bigger than myself, a place where stories lived. I’d come back physically exhausted, but mentally primed to write.
Recent research into how the brain works has verified this instinctual knowing. Contrary to popular stereotypes, being a “jock” doesn’t make you dumb; it makes you smarter. Here are the top three reasons science is proving that exercise builds better brains, and by doing so we can extrapolate that it also makes us better writers.
1. Voluntary Exercise Will Make Your More Creative
Research out of UCLA clearly shows that working out not only increases the strength of your body, but also “primes adult dorsal root ganglion neurons for increased axonal regeneration through a neurotrophin-dependent mechanism.” That’s a fancy way of saying your brain builds more, better and stronger connections if you work out. Unusual, new (or novel, parum-pum) neural connections are the basis of creativity. Having writer’s block? Go for a writer’s walk.
2. Exercise Makes Your Plots Better and Lessens Your Mistakes
Research published by the United States National Institutes of Health shows that regular aerobic exercise increases the brain’s ability to process information and remember things. That means you’ll devise better plots, and you won’t forget your protagonist’s aunt’s hair color in chapter 13 if you work out. If you get dehydrated, though, that benefit is lost. So get up and sweat, writers, but drink lots of water, too.
3. Exercise Will Create Space in Your Mind For New Ideas
Research out of Stockholm shows that running has the unexpected side effect of growing new brain cells in the hippocampus, which is not a university for hippos but rather a place where your brain learns new stuff. Want more ideas? Go jogging.
Fit writers are better writers.