Despite the world’s advice, I’ve never exercised. I practised ‘fidget fitness’ - mucking around, doing fun stuff, and struggling to sit still. Although my brain goes a million miles an hour, I thought of physical energy as a limited resource, to be weighed out by the gram.
Lately, though, I’ve been craving physical exertion. Then, to everyone’s shock, I joined a gym. And I love it! It turns out: Exercise specifically helps creative people. Here’s how…
Get better sleep
Creative people often have minds that don’t want to switch off. We may be sensitive to noise and light, have vivid dreams, and our imaginations invite us to think about terrifying things at 3am.
I’d always noticed that I slept better on the days I’d done something physically demanding. Exercise makes you sleep better (science says!) Luckily, you can generate this on purpose.
Cope better with risk
Creativity is full of risk: committing to unknowable outcomes, braving resistance, sharing your work, talking about what you do…And where there’s risk, there’s nervous energy.
Now, when I’m moving towards something that calls me and freaks me out equally, I take little steps. Between them, I do something physical and it calms me down again. Exercise is a simple way to manage the adrenalin that comes from stepping into the unknown.
Get more comfortable with feelings
Emotions are crucial for most creative people. But sometimes they seem overwhelming - and then we have feelings about our feelings!
When you have emotions, you can feel your heart, your chest, your guts, your skin. Exercise also requires that you experience your body instensely. But because you’re choosing it, you have a soothing sense of control.
You can practise reassuring yourself that you’re safe, even while experiencing intensity within the body. This skill helps you stay with, experience and process intense feelings.
In What I talk about when I talk about running, Haruki Murakami talks about building up his stamina for creative work, just as he does when preparing for a marathon.
Much as I love this metaphor, I’m never going take up running. But being more curious about my physical experience brings me new insights, feeding my creative work. This is the biggest benefit of all.