I was fortunate to spend this past week in Palm Desert, CA. To say Palm Desert of course means Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta…even the Salton Sea, for we spent time in all of them. Don’t turn away. This article is not “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”. It is about an association between mind and body, a connection I see more strongly with the passing years.
When in Palm…when in all the above mentioned cities, I particularly love to run trails. There are great trails everywhere, short interpretive trails, long mountainous trails, and desert trails connecting oases (that’s the plural, I looked it up) far out into the Coachella Reserve.
When in the 5 Cities I also like to write––no marketing, no signings, no talks, no research, no communication––just write. I get up early each morning to greet the sun and write until I’m writ out (that’s not the past tense, I looked it up). Then, in the afternoons, I run, hopefully somewhere new, to something I’ve not seen before.
Okay, here’s the connecting part. I’m certainly not the first to experience a sharper, more creative mind from running. Bernd Heinrich has written a great book on the subject: Running With The Antelope; what animals can teach us about running and life. In it he explores our biology, how running is in our DNA, how as humans we are able to do something animals can not do––sweat, which allowed us to keep cool enough to run long distances, and eventually run down our quarry. The point is, humans are made to run.
John Ratey of Harvard has studied the benefits of running. He has found that students who take tests after running score higher than if they don’t, that the power of the brain is better facilitated after aerobic exercise. The evidence is so convincing that some school systems have instituted a policy that requires children to run laps before classes start in the morning, with notably better academic success (and a lot less hanging about in the corridors). Dr. Ratey explains the physiology of this connection in his book Spark. Give it a read.
I know little about the physiology of the human body, or the effect of aerobic exercise on body nutrients and hormones and brain cells, etc.. I do know that after a run, I always feel better than when I started out. At about mile two in my runs, I am able come up with plot solutions for novels I am writing, or ideas for new books. By the end of a run, I’m likely to have a brand new perspective on my work.
It doesn’t end there. The clarity of mind running brings stays with me the remainder of the day and into the next. I don’t claim my brain is particularly sharp, but it is at its best after a run (some of us need any edge we can get). With this clarity of mind comes greater enjoyment of my surroundings, which in turn contributes to my descriptions of settings. That I sometimes have my characters use the same trails I run is a bonus. I have yet to experience writer’s block. I have no way to know if such a lucky circumstance is due to my running, but I’ll claim so until someone can prove otherwise.
Many people are not runners. It happens running is the easiest exercise to engage in, but other aerobic workouts, according to Ratey, will bring similar benefits. Nor is it about competition; it is about maintaining a high heart rate, as established through your base rate, for a prolonged period of time.
“Our culture treats mind and body as if they are separate entities,” Ratey says. His goal is to reconnect them. Makes sense to me.