How Activity Inspires Innovation

When I first developed the concept for Hackfit, there were many who thought I was naive. And if not naive, maybe insane. “You’re going to take engineers and ask them to do WHAT? Yoga? Rock Climbing?CrossFit!? That’s never going to happen.” innovation and exercise: these characteristics combine together like oil and vinegar, right?

Wrong.

I’m an interesting hybrid of attributes myself – an athlete and a huge nerd. I’m at my best, both physically and mentally, when I am active, engaged, and stimulated. This doesn’t just apply to me. Most people have their Eureka moments, not while stagnant, but instead during incredible conversations, adventures, and physical challenges.

Hackfit is built on the ethos and understanding that technology development and a healthy lifestyle do not have to be mutually exclusive. Last year, we hosted our first Hackfit Startup Competition here in Boston with Constant Contact as one of our major sponsors. Our goal was to unite coders, students, and athletes to develop fitness and health related hacks, interspersing work with play by participating in exercise classes such as rock climbing, yoga, CrossFit, martial arts, running and more – healthy food included. Not only do Hackfitters live a healthy lifestyle, they make the world a healthier place as well.

What was the result? We sold out with over 165 Hackfitters in attendance and even had a Constant Contact engineer, Jason Weden join the ruckus. In just one weekend, each Hackfitter (on average) walked/ran 50 minutes, biked 30 minutes, did yoga/meditation for 47 minutes, and participated in heavy exercise (rock climbing, CrossFit, weight training) for 48 minutes. That’s a total of 2.9 hours of activity IN ONE WEEKEND! And so you might think, “how does anyone get work done?”

Well, we also discovered an overwhelmingly positive correlation between each team’s activity level, and their final project score (teams were scored on tech, business model, and WOW factor). The teams with the highest activity levels, had the most creative ideas and hacks. This result is not surprising.

Physical activity, particularly aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, and swimming, has many cognitive benefits and effects on the brain. This includes increased neurotransmitter levels, improved oxygen and nutrient delivery, and increased neurogenesis in the hippocampus (crucial for learning and memory storage).

There are a number of ways in which exercise also reduces levels of stress. Exercise produces feelings of happiness through the production of endorphins while also improving stress resiliency (people who exercise more are more likely to have less of a stress reaction to adverse situations).

At Hackfit Boston, we found the overall stress levels of our participants to be low, which is extremely uncommon for typical hackathons. Tylor Hess, one Hackfitter commented, “when you get frustrated with your work, you can go climb and then come back to [your work] after you’ve cleared your head, this is super helpful.” Another participant, Joey Orlando said, “I biked to the rock gym, did CrossFit, and then worked on my demo presentation. I felt so productive and exercise helped a lot.”

Some of you might be thinking, “I could never do something like this. I’m out of shape. Too old.” Wrong again. There were Hackfitters who had previously never run a mile in their life, complete a 3.8 mile run along the Charles River. It’s all about adopting a mentality where work, play, and activity are one-in-the-same. You are capable of more than you could imagine.

In innovation intensive environments, physical activity and exercise is absolutely critical for the success, sustainability, and wellbeing (both physically and mentally) of individuals. We hear very often about the long-term benefits of living a healthy lifestyle, but very rarely do we hear about the acute effects on productivity and creativity. At Hackfit Boston, we proved that activity truly inspires innovation.

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