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December 4, 2005

calvin and hobbs.jpg

I’ve always talked about creativity and innovation being the essence of knowledge work in high technology. It’s also been my belief that creativity is almost impossible if you’re depressed. In any given year, about seven percent – between 13 million and 14 million people – experience a depressive disorder, and about 97 percent of those reporting depression also report that their work, home life and relationships suffer as a result. Depression is also known to weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to physical illness. If creativity is an outgrowth of one’s passion for life, it can surely be elusive if the passion isn’t there.

I just received my December issue of Dr. Andrew Weil’s “Self Healing” newsletter, with the cover story being about how exercise benefits your mood. The article cites a Duke University study of 156 middle-aged and older people who experienced depression. It compared the effect of treatment with exercise alone versus using anti-depressant medication.

The long and the short of this study is that the exercise was as effective as medication. Moreover, in a follow-up study six months later, depression relapsed in 38 percent of the medication-only group, but in only 8 percent of the exercise group!

This piqued my interest since one creativity trick that I use in writing this blog is to “meditate” at my health club on the stair-climber with a small pencil and slip of note paper in my pocket. When ideas fly into my mind, I quickly write them down. I’m not depressed, but perhaps a reason I feel creative and happy in the first place has to do with my exercise routine.

Other forms of my exercise include competitive tennis, yoga, kayaking, skiing, and strength training with weights. I can’t jot down ideas that excite me for my columns and consulting engagements while smacking a tennis ball, but I’ve been pleasantly astonished at the workings of my mind when writing ideas on the stair-climber or in between reps on the cable-rower. One of my most creative articles came while lying in the sun on my kayak, notepad in hand while tied to a tree stump on the banks of the Housatonic River, here in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts.

By the way, keep the iPod on the next time you’re at the gym. A University of Ohio study showed that listening to music while exercising helped to increase scores on a verbal fluency test among cardiac rehabilitation patients. Your brain is smarter after exercising with music. Think about “The Mozart Effect”.

“This is the first study to look at the combined effects of music and short-term exercise on mental performance,” said Charles Emery, the study’s lead author and a professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

“Evidence suggests that exercise improves the cognitive performance of people with coronary artery disease,” Emery said. “And listening to music is thought to enhance brain power. We wanted to put the two results together.”

So – exercise, listen to music, be happy, have a healthy heart, get creative…