To Move Is to Live Is to Move

AikidoI walk five miles every day, using a Fitbit as a pedometer to keep myself honest. People praise me for this, telling me how virtuous I am to get all this exercise.

I get a lot of great ideas while walking. I work out plot tangles and write essays in my head and come back to my stories with a fresh look. I also meet other people and pet dogs and admire the hard work my neighbors do on their yards.

But my motivation isn’t virtue or the generation of ideas or enjoyment of my neighborhood. It’s much simpler than that: I’m a physical being and I need to move. Walking is an easy way to meet that need.

It isn’t exercise. I hate exercise.

Exercise is what you do in gym class or “boot camp” programs at gyms, where you are pushed to go beyond your limits and they preach the gospel of “no pain no gain.” It’s what the doctor tells you to do. It’s hard work and unpleasant and you’re supposed to do it even though you hate it because you’ll feel better afterwards. Or at least virtuous.

Exercise is having a desk with a treadmill or bicycle pedals so you can work out while working. That’s extreme modern virtue. Don’t just work; work out at the same time.

In fact, the modern idea of exercise and the modern idea of work have a lot in common: both are things you have to do and that you’re supposed to hate.

I hate exercise, but I love moving. I love walking. I love doing Tai Chi forms and swinging a wooden sword and punching the heavy bag.

I spent over twenty years getting up for 7 am Aikido class because I loved to train and I loved that class in particular. And, mind you, I am not a morning person and never became one.

I miss running. I wasn’t fast and I usually only ran a few miles at most, but it was so satisfying to feel my body working hard while I ran through my neighborhood or in the park. We physical beings need to get our heart rates up while we’re moving our bodies, just to know we can.

I don’t run anymore, because it’s hard on my knees and my ankles, and part of being a physical being is listening to all parts of my body. If I ran despite the protests from my joints, I’d tear them up too much to enjoy walking and other activities.

For the most part, I just move, doing things that I enjoy doing.

There are things I don’t like to do. I’ve never been able to get into yoga (except the meditative practices). I don’t like to swim. I think the exercise classes with a teacher exhorting you to feel the burn belong on one of the lower rings of Hell.

But martial arts training is different, maybe because it is integrated mind/body training from the start. I’ve been in love with martial arts since I first walked into a karate class almost forty years ago.

I train less these days, mostly doing Tai Chi. My body still loves all the movement and flying through the air (and falling well), but it doesn’t recover from the hard side of all that like it used to. These days I focus much more on the internal work, which is still moving even when it looks like I’m not doing anything at all.

Which brings us back to the concept that  movement isn’t precisely exercise. Exercise is just a side effect of some kinds of movement. Movement is what bodies do.

I’ve seen several scientific studies lately that show that people who live in cultures where they move in their daily lives get plenty of exercise. That is, people who walk to run their errands and have to do a certain amount of physical labor to get their food are as healthy as those who go to the gym religiously. And maybe happier.

Human beings need to move. It’s more fun to do that when you don’t call it exercise.

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To Move Is to Live Is to Move — 21 Comments

  1. I love my morning walks, solo or with friends. I see the wildflowers change with the seasons, the different birds. The different colors of the lake, which change daily. Backbrain chugs along the entire time, especially when I’m alone. I never gave up the walk during deadline crunches even when I could’ve used those 2 hours because so many plot issues resolved as I moved.

    • This is the beauty of walking. So much to see while one’s brain works in the background. My walks come mostly in short chunks, but now and again I go hiking and even backpacking.

  2. I wish I didn’t live in cement jungle, sometimes with no sidewalks so you’re right up against the traffic, in the heat of summer ten months of the year, or I’d be a walker too. I love beautiful walks, and walk a lot when I travel.

    But here in the heat, it’s yoga. Luckily I really enjoy it. And exercise bike, with a gigantic fan blowing on me. (This is my TV time.)

    • I feel very fortunate to have moved to a walkable neighborhood and to live near good public transit so I can get to other walkable areas in the rest of the Bay Area. I get very grumpy about bad intersections and the highways that cut up Oakland and make it harder than it should be to walk everywhere, but other places are much, much worse.

      Good sidewalks should be everywhere!

  3. This is why I dance. Sadly only 2 days a week. There’s a community to dancing with others. There’s the glory of matching my body to the music. There’s the lightness to my soul and body when I’m done.

    On days I don’t dance there are lovely walks through my semi-rural neighborhood or alas, when the weather is foul–Pacific North Wet = 9 months of rain –I watch marathons of old SF TV series on DVD.

    If I don’t move, I don’t sleep. If I don’t sleep my plot problems don’t get solved.

  4. Thanks, Nancy Jane. Yes, my body also demands that I move, and walking is a great way to let writing ideas percolate. I am very fortunate to live in a neighborhood with walking and biking trails, as well as nearby mountain trails. Move and breathe!

  5. Exercise is having a desk with a treadmill or bicycle pedals so you can work out while working. That’s extreme modern virtue.

    For me, it’s just wanting to move, not much different from you on your walks. I have a treadmill under my desk, and while using it does make me feel virtuous, it also makes me feel like less of a lifeless slug. That’s the primary goal, more than the multitasking of “I work out while I work!” On days when I walk downtown for errands, I generally don’t use the treadmill, because I’ve already scratched the want-to-move itch.

    • I have to say, I don’t see how you can do any work and use the treadmill at the same time. OTOH, I know you get a lot of work done, so maybe that’s just a difference between us.

      It’s an issue for me, because I need to get up and move, but sometimes that breaks my chain of concentration. But I don’t think I’d be satisfied by something done at my desk in any case.

      • I wasn’t sure if I could work and walk at the same time, either. But I spent a few weeks going to the gym to use the treadmill there, and after I managed to read a chapter from a book on medieval Islamic jurisprudence, I figured that was a good litmus test for being able to do focused intellectual labor while walking. 🙂

        Now, I mostly can’t draft fiction on the treadmill. The movement is just a little too disruptive, unless I’m really geared up for the story and the scene is an exciting one. But it’s great for writing blog posts or answering emails or especially for closing down tabs in my browser — things that need to get done, but don’t require me to engage my creative brain. It also depends on what speed you’re walking: for me 2.5 miles per hour is a sweet spot where I’m going at a reasonable pace, but not so fast that it makes it tough to type. (If I’m watching a long video, I might up the speed to 3 mph instead.)

        But I don’t think I’d be satisfied by something done at my desk in any case.

        Oh, I definitely prefer to get outside if possible. But if it’s raining or I really need to get the next Patreon post written before I go out for the evening, I like having the option of getting some movement, rather than none.

        • Always better to get some movement.

          I have thought of getting an adjustable desk and using it in standing mode when I’m dealing with email and doing other routine things. Then I figure I’d put it in sitting mode when I’m sitting down to do something that requires concentration.

    • I have a treadmill desk at home. I love it. It makes me feel looser and more comfortable. So it is my movement, while I can still get the household chores (bills, registering kid for camp, etc) done. Sitting bothers me and I get fidgety and distracted, while if I can have that slow steady movement I’m much calmer and more focused, and I do notice that I feel better overall.

      As long as I set it to a nice slow pace (but not TOO slow–there’s a magic spot where the walking just works), it doesn’t interfere with my working on the computer or even limited writing. I tried a normal treadmill first (because it was free from a neighbor) first and…um…well, it convinced me it was possibly doable and that I really needed to put the money into a under desk treadmill that did slow walk speeds!

      • You and Marie obviously have figured out how to do it usefully. And I should confess that I’ve never liked treadmills even in the gym. Something about the conveyor belt aspect makes me nervous, I think.

        • I loathe treadmills if all I’m doing is walking or running on them — I feel like a hamster on a wheel, going absolutely nowhere. I’ve got to be doing something else while I move.

          • I find treadmills boring without a music or video, but really useful for aerobics when they incline. Like Nancy I’ve always found running alarming for my joints, but walking uphill is just fine, while fairly strenuous at a good angle and pace. An inclined treadmill is like an infinite hill that I can immediately step off of at the end, vs. real hills around here where I hit the top in 5 minutes and repeating means going down again first.

  6. Apparently, taking walks and moving is also very useful for creative activities such as writing.

    I remember being in college, noticing how empty the gyms were during final week. Instead of working out, most students were studying hard and then complaining that they weren’t good test takers. They said they knew the material, but just couldn’t take tests.

    They would have been much better test takers if they took an hour to play racquetball – which is a sport that is active enough to shut off their brains. Then their body relaxes and they sleep well. Turning off the mile-a-minute thinking is necessary to learn. Sleeping well is where the brain recovers.

    Walking works too – provided people can and do turn off the part of their brains that are worring about something.