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Exercise to Think Better

Everyone knows the physical benefits of exercise. Each January resolutions are made to lose weight, eat better, and exercise more often, all with the goal of feeling healthier. But have you ever heard someone say, “I’m exercising so I can think better?” Or, “I will get to this article as soon as I get my run in”? Most likely you have not because we normally do not equate exercise with intellectual productivity. It’s as if we consider the care of the body to be unrelated to care of the mind. That is, of course, until pains in our body make it impossible for us to think clearly.

Exercise has been a regular staple of great thinkers throughout the ages. Einstein loved taking long hikes in which he could discuss his ideas. Steve Jobs was famous for asking people to join him on a walk to work out a problem. And my good friend Ruby said that she and her husband would often take walks when they had a problem. “It felt good walking side-by-side as we talked, making progress towards a solution.”

In this time of Covid-19, we spend more time in front of our computer screens. We are either in a Zoom meeting or answering emails, which means we are moving less, physically. The media abounds with reports of people gaining weight since the start of the pandemic because they are going outside less (sometimes because of lockdowns). This lack of physical movement adds up. In Japan where public transportation is abundant and efficient, it still requires physical movement, either by bike or foot, to get to a train station or bus stop. This movement (and diet) is reflected in the fact that obesity is not an issue. Contrast this to the US, which has a car culture, and you readily see the difference: 42% of the population is considered obese.

But back to the matter at hand, connecting exercise and intellectual stimulation. The great thinkers in history, as well current intellectuals. all incorporated some form of exercise in their regular routine. For many it was long walks. For others it was jogging or swimming. And even some engaged in yoga. They saw the direct benefits of physical exertion and mental clarity.

When someone says they are a runner, we have the image this is their primary daily activity. We might imagine this activity taking up long hours of their time each day. The reality is that for most runners, they go out 3 to 4 times a week and less than an hour each time. Even those preparing for a marathon rarely go out for more than hour at a time and not every day. When they say they are a runner, it just means that that form of exercise is a priority to them, not that they devote exceedingly long hours to the activity.

Exercise as little as 30 minutes several times a week can have significant health benefits. But more than that, it can help you to be more productive intellectually. Many a great insight has come during or immediately after some form of exercise. The primary reason is that physical exertion forces the heart to pump more blood which increases the flow to the brain. As the blood flows more readily it brings clarity and focus, two things necessary for intellectual breakthroughs.

You need not make New Year resolutions. Start simply with a long walk, short jog, or 10 minutes of yoga. Observe how you feel before and after. You will come to find, as many others have, that in a short period of time your intellectual productivity has increased, you have greater clarity about issues, and you feel less stress. In the time of Covid-19, these are all things we welcome.

Photo Credit: Sherilyn Siy

Biography After Sherilyn Siy received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the Ateneo de Manila University, she worked as a Foreign Expert at the Xiamen Radio and Television University in Xiamen, China. Two years later, she returned to the Philippines to pursue her Master of Arts degree in Applied Social Psychology as a SYLFF (Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund) Fellow. Upon completing graduate studies, she worked at Miriam College where she designed and taught a new Environmental Psychology course and was recognized as one of the Top Ten Outstanding Teachers. She currently lives in Saitama, teaching English at an after school program for elementary school children.


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