Cheryl and I are constantly thinking about what our next physical challenge should be. A fifty mile bike ride? Been there, done that. Hiking to all 5 peaks in Hanging Rock on the same day? Checked off the list. Run in 5ks? Done it, have the t-shirts. Ocean kayaking all around Murrells Inlet? Not nearly as tough as we thought it might be.
Now, because we're insane, in about an hour we'll be leaving the house with the goal of biking 100 miles in three days. The weather this weekend is pretty much perfect for the challenge. Hot, but not yet dangerously hot, with clear skies forecast every day. The goal is to break it down as a 40 mile ride today and tomorrow, with a 20 mile ride on Monday. None of the individual distances worry us, but how we'll handle it without long recovery periods afterwards is where the difficulty lies. Honestly, I think there's a genuine possibility this could be beyond our grasp. Today's 40, no problem at all. And I'm sure we'll be able to get on the bike's tomorrow. It's how far we make it tomorrow before our bodies start insisting that we have better things to do that I'm most worried about.
When we started all this exercise, the goal was primarily to lose weight. Then the focus gradually shifted to overall fitness. Our waistlines didn't matter as much as the fact that we were healthy enough to do things that had once seemed out of our reach.
Now, there's yet another benefit to the exercise I've discovered. Many people think of humans as a sort of trinity. There's a body, a mind, and a spirit, existing in harmony but somehow independent of one another. As an atheist, I throw out the spirit part of the equation, and tend to think of humans in a dualistic way. We're part body, part mind. For the most part, I put these into two separate mental boxes. I bike and avoid soft drinks to improve my body. I read books and write to improve my mind.
But, on a deeper level, the duality is an illusion. There is only body. Mind might appear to be a separate entity, but in reality its only a function of the body. The evidence is pretty simple. If mind weren't a function of body, you wouldn't be able to get drunk. Anesthesia wouldn't be able to switch off your mind for surgery. Mind is only a persistent illusion, an important illusion, a necessary one even. But since I believe it is only an outgrowth of your physical form, it logically follows that, if you want to improve your mind, it helps to improve your body.
I used to think I didn't have time to exercise. What I really meant when I said this was that I was giving priority to mental activities, like writing books or (more frequently) hanging out on the internet talking about stuff. Exercise seemed boring, purely physical, a low priority to the brainier stuff I enjoyed. What I've since discovered is that making my body healthier has made my mind healthier. I'm less prone to depression, less haunted by doubts. I'm able to handle stress better. And, my imagination is more active than ever. Getting outside on a bike for three or four hours gets me away from computers and TV and even off my cell phone. I might pause to take pictures and post to instagram, but when I'm peddling, I'm peddling, and thinking.
Can exercise solve every problem you have in life? Definitely not. But if you ever feel stuck in a rut, unable to grow intellectually, give it a shot. Improved physical health definitely leads to improved mental health. And, if you happen to believe you have a spirit, I suspect it gets a boost as well.