Systematic Review of the Proposed Associations between Physical Exercise and Creative Thinking


  • Emily Frith
  • Seungho Ryu
  • Minsoo Kang
  • Paul D. Loprinzi


The objective of this study was to evaluate the association between physical exercise and creative thinking. A systematic review approach was employed by searching PubMed, Google Scholar and PsychInfo databases. Among the evaluated 13 studies, 92% indicated a beneficial relationship. However, 77% were vulnerable to moderate-high risk for methodological bias, suggesting adherence to standardized and controlled research initiatives should be promoted. There appears to be weak to modest support for acute, moderate-intensity exercise to benefit creativity. Exercise timing relative to creativity assessment protocols should be addressed and further detailed. Creativity scoring procedures must be refined, and an increased focus on the motivational components of exercise may help guide researchers in measuring creative thoughts and behavior. Broader concluding claims that creativity, in general, is improved or impaired by exercise, is as problematic as sweeping statements that exercise improves or impairs a measure as dynamic as intelligence. Scientific inquiries must specify precisely which outcome characteristics are changing in line with research interventions. This review identifies several fallible linkages between physical activity and creativity. Too few studies were conducted on strong methodological foundations, perpetuating the risk for undermining or inaccurately inflating the potential association between exercise and creative thinking behavior.