Today was the bike ride day, a 10-12 mile Rails to Trails ride through the woods without changing gears— flat, flat, flat (amazing for a San Franciscan!) with a perfect temperature and a beautiful dappled light path. One way ended with a swim in Crystal Lake and a picnic lunch, the return trip rewarded with an ice cream from the bike rental/café shop ( a necessary enticement for my young grandchildren). Then the adults went another eight miles back to the cottage. Grab a towel, go to the back lake and plunge in the waters for a vigorous half-mile swim.
I’ve never been obsessive about exercise, feeling that getting up and down off the floor and dancing with kids guaranteed a minimum of necessary physical exertion, alongside weekend bike rides. In my newly (well, over a year now) retired life during the pandemic, I’ve either walked some five miles each day around the city or biked around ten miles. And no surprise— it feels good.
But between counting my swim strokes and noting my miles walked on my phone ap (doesn’t work for the bike), it’s tempting to fall into the numerical pit of fulfilling a certain quota, exercising not just for the pleasure of movement, but to prove to myself that I did the right amount to make me happier and healthier. It’s a slippery slope to equate those numbers to the state of your soul. The science is clear the body and mind are intricately and inextricably connected, that exercise helps oxygenate the brain, tone the body, releases the feel-good dopamine and serotine neurotransmitters— in short, helps the mind think better, the emotions feel better, the body function better. I don’t think anyone can argue with that.
But what about the soul? I think of people like Chopin and Rilke and other artists with frail bodies and constant sickness singing such soulful music and poetry. Would daily workouts at the gym contributed more to their creations? Or distracted them? Or traded in feeling hale and hearty for their explorations into the deep recesses of the suffering and exuberant soul?
I plan to think about this during my 800-stroke swim tomorrow.