I don’t exercise to get fit or lose weight. I do it to get clear and clean in the head. And I do it every day, because I want to be clear and clean every day. As it’s a simple, do-able goal with an immediate outcome (I feel clearer and cleaner instantly, but I don’t lose weight from exercise for months, if at all), I’m rewarded for my efforts and incentivised to keep going. And going.
But another reason to exercise is for the mental agility it imbues, which, in turn, aids creativity. I read this interview with Murakami in The Paris Review recently that touches on this. I thought I’d share. As with everything uttered by Haruki Murakami, it’s elegant and clear and clean:
” When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit, and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long–six months to a year–requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.
I totally agree with the repetition bit. And the every day bit. And the bit about physical strength being important to creative success. I draw on the physical depths I’ve gone to over the years to achieve all kinds of things. My four-week mountain bike trips and long hiking tours define who I am. I often get sad to think that some people – particularly women who’ve not been pushed to try challenging physical pursuits – never get to experience that depth of body and mind.
For the factoid fans out there:
- A 2004 University of Southern Mississippi study showed students who walked at 50 percent of their maximum heart rates or ran on treadmills at 60 to 90 percent of their maximum heart rates reduced their sensitivity to anxiety, and that thorough rigorous exercise worked better.
- A 2006 Dutch study of 19,288 twins and their families demonstrated those who exercised were “less anxious, less depressed, less neurotic, and also more socially outgoing.”
- Studies now prove that aerobic exercise both increases the size of the prefrontal cortex and facilitates interaction between it and the amygdala. This is vitally important to creators because the prefrontal cortex, as we discussed earlier, is the part of the brain that helps tamp down the amygdala’s fear and anxiety signals.
What about you…does exercise work this way for you?