Move Your Body to Move Your Mind

I often tell people that we should offer lecture classes to undergraduates (particularly Freshman) at the gym. In my mind, I see a lecturer positioned in front of treadmills; the various screens that typically display ESPN and Dr. Phil are adorned with Prezi’s or SlideShare presentations.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” I usually say to other academics, “if you could take your required history or philosophy course while you jogged, or powerwalked, or went to town on a rowing machine? Don’t you think students would listen better and learn more? Their brains are technically functioning at a higher level when they’re working out.” At that point, I get dirty looks and contentious laughs.

“Ya right,” people say.

When I ask why they think it’s a bad idea, they usually say something like “no one would sign up for that” or “I listen to music at the gym.” I have to wonder what’s so different about listening to someone discuss complex ideas that may actually be new or interesting as opposed to Nicki Minaj. Or is there some innate human desire to hear the same top 40 song you heard yesterday blast through your eardrums during work-outs?

I, for one, listen to lectures as I run, or lift. I would do it while I swim, but I haven’t saved enough money for the underwater phone protector or the waterproof headphones. But X-Mas is right around the corner…(cough*Mom*cough)….

A recent NY Times article explores the monotony people feel toward excersice.  Drawing from a number of psychological studies, Jane Brody concludes that the average person chalks working-out up to doing something hard, challenging, or generally unenjoyable. Yet, study after study reveals that people who do excersice on the regular are happier, more productive, and less stressed.

I can attest to the latter. Moving your body is not just a way to fit into that shirt you bought last winter when you were certain you’d be in shape by now. It’s a way to move your mind – to keep your mental state positively charged, resilient, and upwelling with new ideas that motivate you to improve the conditions which help you sustain whatever it is that you do. And, reflecting on the shape my relationships are in since I’ve started working-out on a daily basis, I’ll argue that it makes you a more pleasant person to be around.

Look – I used to be 100 lbs over weight and then I chose a profession that forces me to sit down all day long. That is the personal-health equivalent to making toast while you take a bubble bath. Sitting and staring in front of my computer screen most of the time, I suffer from the same hand to mouth disease as the next person. And I am much more concerned with gettng my thoughs in order and well-formed (because it makes me money and pays off my mountain of college debt) than I am worried about the shape my love handles make when I wear shorts just out of the dryer. But I’ve found that a lack of attention to one important aspect of my life (I’m suggesting that my bodily health is one of them) has a direct impact on another (I’m suggesting that financial/mental health is just as important).

As a technology user and graduate student, I’ve found a way to reconcile the Cartesian Dual that tortures my soul. It’s a dilemma that’s not just mine alone – I know for a fact that a “longing for” combined with the “lack of” motivated, enjoyable, routined exercise plagues the majority of my colleagues. And most of them can’t seem to understand how I stay on top of my work (which involves immense amounts of intensive reading, writing, blogging, teaching, and incessant talking) as well as work out everyday (which most of them assume is an exaggeration, I’m sure).

I’ve turned their excuses into a solution. All it takes is a phone and headphones:

1. Don’t listen to music when you work out; listen to open courses, lectures, podcasts, or something intellectually stimulating. Teach yourself how to pause and fast-forward so when you need to talk to someone or shift your focus for a moment, you can get back on track with minimal interruption.

2. Download an app that lets you easily record yourself. You will be shocked at how incredible your ideas are at the peak of your workout. You’ll also get a kick out of hearing your winded self say words with more than 3 consonants. Go back and listen to these as a warm down – or, just throw them away. The magic is really in the talking-through-it.

3. Use a standard note taking app to write down any idea that comes to mind. This is especially great to do when you stop running, pause the workout, or are waiting between machines at the gym. I actually write a load of emails while I workout and sometimes – I’m not embarrassed to say – I write poetry. How ’bout that!

These three suggestions are easy, make working out more productive, and, at least for me, seem to keep the same old routine fresh and exciting. Everyday. As an academic, you might find these suggestions helpful, but I can assure you that what I’m suggesting translates to any vocation that involves learning. You could just try it out for the hell of it. Who knows? I bet you find yourself motivated and inspired at the same time.

And that’s not an exaggeration.
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Move Your Body to Move Your Mind by Nicholas A. Riggs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at nicholasariggs.wordpress.com.