For the longest time, I’ve had trouble working exercise regularly into my schedule. I may get back into working out regularly for a few weeks, but then eventually I find myself again skipping out for various reasons: a rough work week, a busy weekend, not feeling well, etc. I haven’t honestly consistently worked out for a few years now, when I used to occasionally run races, and even then it was struggle.
The thing that hinders it the most is that I just can’t seem to log fitness time as a priority. I often find myself thinking how my time could be better spent doing productive things like writing or even just getting things done around the house. I know the concept of not considering exercise a productive activity is a little ridiculous, but it’s just where I’ve always been. Aside from the obvious health benefits, I’ve never been able to see fitness time as productive. I’ve tried plenty of times in the past, but I’m always met by a sub-conscious lump of arguments: Things like “well, I’m not trying to lose weight” or “I have a very active job” or “I get out of the house a lot and stay active.” When I try to get out of there and change my perspective, I’ve only ever been able to counter the arguments with “well, it’s good for me” which, while true, is just a fairly weak argument when I’ve developed such a strong mental block. I needed an argument that helped play fitness directly into the things I saw as productive, so that I could separate deliberate exercise from casual activity and work activity.
So, I did some searching and looking to try and find something I could tell myself to fit exercise snuggly into my catalog of productive activities without it just feeling like something I was doing because it was expected. Granted, there are plenty of health benefits and, honestly, exercise should never be over-looked (do as I say, not as I do). However, one thing definitely stuck out to me: the effects exercise has on the brain itself. I’d always heard that exercise helps with depression and can help with sleep, both of which are things that are important to me, but I never knew just how much benefit the brain gets from exercise. Let me share what I read and sorry if people already know this and I’m just slow to the game here.
At the get-go, exercise increases blood flow, which is fairly obvious. However, it’s cerebral blood flow that is interesting. Studies have shown exercise to have an overall effect on maintaining cognitive function, aiding in the production of brain cells and protect the brain from degeneration. A lot of study is being put into the effects of exercise on Brain Plasticity, or rather the ability of the brain to change and grow. Often, people assume the brain is done growing at a certain age, such as young adulthood, but proper conditions can allow the brain to continue growth well into the later years of life. Thus, the simple act of regularly working out, typically aerobic activities, can help the brain become stronger and remain that way for a person’s life.
I was definitely on to something. I could get behind brain health, since actively using my brain is kind of my bread-and-butter. Quick note: I’m not saying I’m smart, because that’s just not true, but I do want to continue doing this writing thing and generally trying to be creative, so I need a functioning brain for that.
On that note, I found some cool articles on how exercise can actually help people be more creative. Throughout history, creative thinkers and philosophers and scientists have made it a point to institute some regimen of physical activity into their lives and work. Regular activity can improve the brains aptitude for creative solutions and convergent thinking. Henry David Thoreau is often referenced in this discussions, since he was such a passionate advocate for activity and thinking, but many artists, old and new, have taken to activity as a means for brewing up some imagination soup. There’s also the concept of the Default Mode Network, wherein the brain continues ticking away on thoughts and problems while our main focus slips off to somewhere else, such as focus on a workout routine or running a certain route. Honestly, this all just sort of clicked together. It makes sense that an activity that helps the brain grow and be more open to change would help promote and environment where ideas and thoughts can flourish.
I’ll level with you here, I’m not a scientist. I love science, and I enjoy reading about it, but I never got into that field professionally, so the sloppiness of the connections I’m making here are probably incredibly aggravating to science minded people. By all means, if you’re a sciencey person, feel free to comment with some extra info regarding these things. I welcome a further discussion on this stuff, it’s honestly super fascinating and seems like there is still a lot of study needed to really hammer down the exact effects of exercise on the brain. I also invite everyone to look into this stuff more if you’re interested. The brain is a seriously cool machine and reading about it is incredible. If you find any cool articles, send them my way.
Ultimately, I think I’ve been able to push back against my mental block. I think of exercise now as an extension to the things I have long considered productive: this blog, my writing projects, being a GM, coming up with new ideas for projects, etc. It’s like getting gas in your car, nobody particularly looks forward to having to stop and get out and fill up in the heat or cold or rain, in fact most of us are indifferent to it, but it’s necessary and we do it with the knowledge that our car will continue to run. However, imagine if every time you filled your tank, you car got a little nicer, ran a little better. That’s what this is, maintenance with perks.
So get out there and get gas!