Free-flowing thought is more likely while walking indoors or outdoors, researchers found.
"Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking," said Marily Oppezzo of Santa Clara University.
"With this study, we finally may be taking a step or two toward discovering why," said Oppezzo.
While at Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, Oppezzo and colleague Daniel L Schwartz, conducted studies involving 176 people, mostly college students.
They found that those who walked instead of sitting or being pushed in a wheelchair consistently gave more creative responses on tests commonly used to measure creative thinking.
When asked to solve problems with a single answer, however, the walkers fell slightly behind those who responded while sitting, according to the study published in American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.
Of the students tested for creativity while walking, 100 per cent came up with more creative ideas in one experiment, while 95 per cent, 88 per cent and 81 per cent of the walker groups in the other experiments had more creative responses compared with when they were sitting.
In one experiment with 48 participants, each student sat alone in a small room at a desk facing a blank wall. When a researcher named an object, the student came up with alternative ways to use the object.
The students heard two sets of three words and had four minutes per set to come up with as many responses as possible.
To see how walking might affect more restricted thinking, the researchers also had the students complete a word association task with 15 three-word groups, such as "cottage-Swiss-cake," for which the correct answer is "cheese."
Participants repeated both tasks with different sets of words first while sitting and then while walking at a comfortable pace on a treadmill facing a blank wall in the same room.
With a different group of 48 students, some sat for two different sets of the tests, some walked during two sets of the test and some walked and then sat for the tests.
"This confirmed that the effect of walking during the second test set was not due to practice," Oppezzo said.
"Participants came up with fewer novel ideas when they sat for the second test set after walking during the first. However, they did perform better than the participants who sat for both sets of tests, so there was a residual effect of walking on creativity when people sat down afterward.
"Walking before a meeting that requires innovation may still be nearly as useful as walking during the meeting," Oppezzo said.