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.