As the dog and I took our three-to-four-mile daily jaunt this morning, I realized there is a great deal of similarity between dog walking and my writing work. Sounds strange, I know, but keep reading.
Without a long walk every day, I can’t live with Harley, my hyperactive two-year-old German Shepard/terrier mix. Harley gives me a pass only for pouring rain or a blizzard, neither of which has occurred very frequently of late here in drought-stricken California. My enthusiasm for our walk waxes and wanes, but by the time we return my mind is clear and my body feels better too.
In a similar vein, I have a hard time living with myself if I don’t work on one of my current writing projects every day. (Unless I’m on an awesome trip, like my recent expedition to Iceland.) Frequently my mind is muddled when I sit down; instead of a definitive path there’s a faint trail obscured by a jungle of doubt and uncertainty. Shaping my thoughts into some organized form is about as pleasant as the first half mile of Harley’s walk—which is to say, not pleasant at all. And yet when my scheduled writing time is over, my mind is clearer and as long as I remember to get up and stretch every hour, I feel better physically too.
Walking Harley and writing are both forms of exercise. It would be easy to categorize the two activities as serving two entirely different functions—one focused on the body, the other on the brain. Yet research shows that physical health and mental health are inextricably linked, that physical exercise benefits the brain, and by the same token, mental exercise benefits the body. Don’t believe me? Here are two articles, one from Harvard Medical School and the other from the New York Times, and a couple of books, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, and Brain Rules, that discuss these findings.
Scientists are quick to point out that they’re not sure yet whether one form of exercise benefits the brain more than others, so for now, I’ll stick with dog walking, plus seasonal extras like hiking and cross country skiing. There’s also debate about the types of mental activities that foster physical well-being. Research performed at the University of Texas by Dr. James Pennebaker shows that writing can provide both psychological and physiological benefits, and work done in New Zealand shows that writing can lower cortisol levels and boost immune function. Stay tuned for further developments around this topic.
Two final notes before I head off with Harley. First, if you’re still reading this—yay!—and thank you. I’ve been blogging for more than five years now, and even when it feels like I’m just talking to myself, I enjoy it. Of course, I hope you’ve found an interesting or entertaining tidbit along the journey with me. And second, I’m always on the lookout for great blogs, and I recently discovered a winner called Brain Pickings. It’s written weekly by Maria Popova, the Futures of Entertainment Fellow at MIT. Smart stuff for smart people. That’s you, right?