The consequences of a lack of exercise are swift and severe, especially as the calendar continues its relentless passage. With an abundance of physical activity, though, the benefits are equally extreme and measurable. Low cholesterol. Strong heart. Vibrant bones and muscles. Little excess body fat. Increased creativity and stamina.
But society works against all that in the name of “ease of use.” The country as a whole no longer directly reaps the fields or catches animals and fish, instead sitting in offices day in and day out and ordering in. While passing through any thoroughfare in any town in any county in any state, one need not even get out of the car to load up on carbs and saturated fat, a circumstance ushered in by the glorious drive-thru window.
Yet often lost in all the press and proselytizing about exercise is that the brain needs at least as much of a workout each day, each week. People often fall into a comfort zone in daily life that approaches that cursed word, routine. No matter how challenging a particular job may be, by repeating the same mental tasks for weeks, months, years at a time, the brain is fed a steady diet of stagnant protein that does little to create new stimulation, new passageways, new energy.
Pursue new projects at work. Learn a new language. Study a musical instrument. Become familiar with an entirely new subject area. Read different kinds of books. Take trips with friends and family members to different places and foreign countries. Actress Kristin Chenoweth, for one, describes the high learning curve when she first came to New York from Broken Arrow, OK, over 20 years ago.
Curiosity is to the brain as adrenalin is to the body. Both create needs that sustain. All things being equal, why are some older people full of life, and for others, an exhausting day is when their favorite television character has a tough day at the office?
That which cannot be controlled has been exhaustively written about and fretted over. Enough already. Sure, it’s initially harder to choose cottage cheese over cheesecake, veggie burgers over hamburgers, sushi over salami. But the body adjusts. As does the brain. Feed the former a low-fat diet, and feed the latter rich servings three times a day; watch how they begin to crave that which is healthy, sustaining and vital. Reverse the process and experience just how familiar a hospital bed can become.
The pleasures of passive activity are as fleeting as they are deceptive, while living well requires discipline and hard work. “Ease of use” works well for cars and vacuum cleaners. Not so for mental exercise. Effort and reward go hand in hand. So do inactivity and ill health.
The forecast is largely up to us.