The “wellness hour” unleashes creativity


Portrait and rear view of someone wearing trainers.

After a brisk stroll in the nearest park or a half hour on the treadmill, the brain can come up with the most innovative solutions, writes Åsa Mackenzie. Photo: Phosworks /Shutterstock.

COLUMN. With the body in motion, our brain can devote itself to something at which its abilities are unparalleled. Free thinking. Åsa Mackenzie writes about the importance of the wellness hour for creativity.

In our daily lives, we often spend a lot of time sitting in front of screens. In such sedentary occupations, the wellness hour can give us a break and promote health and well-being.

However, I’d like to present another argument in favour of the wellness hour; it gives us the chance to get really creative during our workdays! Let’s face it, how many cool ideas do you get sitting in front of a screen? How many challenges do we solve there?

What better than a jog on the treadmill or around campus, or pretty much any other activity that demands that we do more than clickity-clack our fingers across a keyboard. When we move our bodies, the blood flows up to our head and unleashes the full power of our brain, allowing it to think freely. Let associations swim freely around in your head and form completely new thoughts, ideas, contexts. Perhaps the wellness hour is the time each week when we can be at our most creative.

And isn’t it time to increase our appreciation for creativity – even in academia?

Not least in light of recent reports that Swedish research is apparently lagging behind. There’s every reason to stop and ask how this might have happened. And ask ourselves, could the lack of creativity have been a contributing factor? Where has creativity gone in our everyday academic life, and how can we find it again?

What if the biggest investment academia can make in innovative research is an investment in mobility? What if the wellness hour is not “only” a genuinely good investment in health and recovery, but also in the brain’s creative processes and thus its potential for free thinking.

Unpredictability is part of the beauty here; it’s impossible to plan what innovative flights of fancy the brain will take while we race along on a treadmill.

Sure, we can try to control where we channel our thoughts. But then we’ve missed the point. Then our wellness activity may benefit the body, but not our slightly smarter self. Unless we relinquish control of our thoughts, our wellness activity is a bit like staying at work – except that our legs are moving.

Nope, in order to reach a state of free association and creativity, we must dare to let go of our control over our thoughts, to unplug from the level of cognition we otherwise prefer to control. Allow ourselves to reach a flow, in body and mind. When we reach that harmonious state, the brain is free to build completely new thoughts from our previous life experiences. It’s almost like sleep in reverse, a waking state of free association in which everything comes together and “makes sense”.

“Eureka!” As Mardie’s Uncle Nilsson so boldly exclaimed. That’s what we’ll do! Of course! A half hour on the treadmill or a brisk stroll in the nearest park can allow the brain to come up with the most innovative solutions. Don’t try to direct your thoughts; let them flow freely.

Let go of control! Unleash the power of your brain. With the body in motion, our brain can devote itself to something at which its abilities are – until this very day - unparalleled: free thinking.


Åsa Mackenzie

Professor of Molecular Physiology at Uppsala University

Originally published in Curie, 14 February 2024.