Problem-solving on the run

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Feeling stuck? Going for a run can make it easier to resolve difficult issues. New research from the University of Aberdeen helps explain why. Two studies conducted by psychology lecturer Lynden Miles indicate that your mind associates forward motion with the future. Running prepares your brain to think ahead, which can trigger creative thinking. ‘As you move forward, your thoughts about the future may also become more fluid and clear,’ says Miles. Follow these tips to make the most of mind and motion.

Plant the seed

Thinking about something before you run can give your brain a head-start, says Judy Van Raalte, a professor of sports and exercise psychology at Springfield College in Massachusetts, US. Spend just a minute thinking about an issue you want to focus on during your workout.

Set yourself up for success

Stick with a tried-and-tested route and head out when you are at your most alert. This will give you the best chance of finding a solution. ‘If you’re worried about directions, you can’t have the freedom for your mind to wander,’ says Van Raalte.

Go easy

If you’re running hard or doing a time-based workout, you’ll be concentrating on your speed and your splits. Your thinking run should be an easy workout. Give yourself a chance to get into a rhythm before you turn to the topic you want to contemplate, says Van Raalte.

Run with a friend

Talking with a running partner can sometimes give you a fresh perspective on a problem. ‘If you’re looking for creative solutions to a problem, input from others can be helpful,’ says Van Raalte. Let your friend know in advance that you plan to run easy and want to talk.’

…But not for long

Limit the time you spend on anxiety-inducing issues to a few minutes at the beginning of your run. Spending too much time on worrisome topics can make you tense up, which can lead to premature fatigue and lowered endurance, says clinical psychologist Keith Kaufman.

Think tough

‘When you think about a problem, your heart rate may increase and you may sweat,’ notes Van Raalte. ‘If you consider the same thing while running, you may attribute those sensations to the run, allowing you to feel more mentally relaxed while tackling tough issues.’