I often see a man I know running around the neighborhood— and I’ve been seeing him for over 30 years! Now a retired Literature Professor, he’s still out there jogging rain or shine. Yes, moving a bit slower, but moving nonetheless. I once asked him why he’s so faithful and he replied, “My father gave me two good words of advice: ‘Keep moving.’ And he was right.”
Today I needed to plan an upcoming workshop and sat at the computer with two blank screens— the machine’s and mine. So while there was still a spot of sun left, I hopped on my bike and rode some fifteen miles. When I returned, the workshop was fully planned. What was needed to get the ideas moving was to get me moving. And on the bike going through Golden Gate Park to the ocean and around Lake Merced, it was a triple bonus: clear thinking, needed cardio-vascular workout and the refreshment of Monterey pines and the ocean’s expanse and the lake’s calm waters. Intellectual, physical, aesthetic— and all without an expensive gym membership card!
John Medina’s Brain Rules puts “Exercise” at the top of the list. Our human bodies are about the same as our ancestors 10,000 plus years ago and are made to move. Around 12 miles a day is the calculation for hunter-gatherer societies. Farmworkers I imagine get a different kind of workout. All of which has been compensated for in our sedentary culture by Stairmasters instead of impala chases and weights instead of bales of hay.
But what fascinates me is the quality of thought possible by moving. Medina points out that exercise “gets blood to the brain, brings it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up toxic electrons. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.” Sounds good to me. While biking, I was able to imagine each detail of the workshop to come and all the connecting pieces and how to choreograph the ideas. When I got home, I jotted them down fast and all that’s left is to prepare the notes.
Of course, exercise alone doesn’t generate inspired thought. (Note post-game interviews with most athletes.) It’s the combination of an idea that’s incubating, a problem asking for attention, a thought-process begun with a vigorous walk or bike ride or swim (probably doesn’t work while playing basketball and such— too much to pay attention to) that gives feet to the vision, gets things rolling alongside the bicycle wheels.