Archive for the ‘health’ Category

You got to move

June 8, 2013

I’ll have to keep on getting up and going, even when my get up and go has got up and went.

That’s because my two docs aren’t podiatrists (though their practice is of course grounded in the feet). Nor are they physiologists, or internists, or general practitioners.

No, they’re mainly emotional and spiritual counselors. They know that I go not to get anywhere but to move, to seek the nectar in the journey. “The great affair is to move,” as Robert Louis Stevenson (another great British rambler) also knew.

Motion and movement do have a tremendous physiological impact, of course, releasing all the right feel-good brain and body chemicals. But that’s not the headline.

The headline is: moving, unlike staying put, generates experience. Scenery, both exterior and overt and mental. Circumstance. Provocation. Opportunity.

So if I couldn’t walk I’d pedal, if I couldn’t pedal I’d Segway (they still make those, right?) or in some other non-combustively-automotive way roll.

That looks boring, I know, but so does most everything from the outside.

I can sorta see an alt-universe version of myself in those fearless guys you see in intersections in their motorized wheelchairs, if it ever came to that. But I wouldn’t be wasting my time going to the mall, I’d be in Warner or Centennial Park.

Worst case scenario would be some sort of merely virtual locomotion. Maybe Google Glass, programmed to deliver the illusion of moving. (But they keep crossing things– face recognition, porn– off the app list.)

It wouldn’t be the same, obviously. But I’ll take an Experience Machine over nothing, Professor Nozick, if those are my choices. There’s more reality in pretending to go, than in really staying put. If you ask me.

Thankfully, I can still really go.

Doctors’ orders

June 7, 2013

Having quoted George Trevelyan on his two doctors, and applauded Michael Milton on what he’s done with just one, and now regrettably recalling another Michael Milton who lost an appendage (readers of John Irving’s Garp will know what I mean and share my regret), it would make sense to write about the encroaching infirmities of time.

I’m not planning to lose any limbs, or anything else. But aches and pains that didn’t used to be there must now be acknowledged and subdued, before just about every walk. Some mornings are better than others. Fortunately, I can still put them entirely out of mind and beyond the veil of perception within ten or fifteen minutes of purposeful striding.  Like Trevelyan I do credit Drs. Left and Right with the daily cure.

But what if the day comes when I require a referral, and I’m instructed to give it a rest?

Well, I don’t intend to cross that bridge unless I have to. But of course if that day comes I’ll seek another opinion.

My Dad used to say we’d know his time was up, if he ever voluntarily relinquished his car keys. That day eventually came for him, and he handed them over with grace and acceptance. That’ll be my model, if ever I’m credibly urged to hand over my sneakers and sit back down at 7 am.

Meanwhile, I have to get up and go. Doctors’ orders.

“Never sit your life out”

June 26, 2012

Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989), so much more than a travel writer, was a cosmopolitan walker. He said:

“Change is the only thing worth living for. Never sit your life out at a desk. Ulcers and heart condition follow.”

He’s found his Boswell (or another one) in Rory Stewart, who’s written the introduction to a new edition of Songlines.

Most of human history was conducted through contacts, made at walking pace…the pilgrimages to Compostela in Spain…to the source of the Ganges, and wandering dervishes, sadhus, and friars, who approached God on foot. The Buddha meditated by walking, and Wordsworth composed sonnets while striding beside the Lakes. Bruce Chatwin concluded from all these things that we would think and live better, and be closer to our purpose as humans, if we moved continually on foot across the surface of the earth.

What Chatwin knew intuitively has been repeatedly confirmed. One recent study concluded that self-propelled motion in the open air, not in a gym or on a treadmill, “had a 50 percent greater positive effect on mental health than going to the gym… walking, running, biking and other outdoor activities through green space lowered stress.” Another links outdoor exercise to greater decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression… just five minutes of exercise in a green space can improve mood and self-esteem.

And all of these outcomes correlate with greater philosophical insight and steadier daily productivity. Well, that’s the working hypothesis of the study I’ve embarked on this summer. Results await confirmation.

Life lessons

May 16, 2012

Older Daughter is a collector of what she calls “life lessons,” instructive quotations, enlightening incidents. Popular entertainment these days, she says, is lacking in this area. She prefers older TV shows like “Boy Meets World,” for instance, the last episode of which she just finished watching.

And what is Harry Potter if not a dispensary of practical wizardry wisdom? I still have the Dumbledore quote about happiness she wrote for me, pinned to my bulletin board. (It can be found, just “turn on the light.”)

Well, she certainly picked up a real world life lesson over the last 36 hours. Me too.

Monday night she was up on stage before a packed auditorium, receiving plaudits for another season of leadership on the diamond and entertaining the crowd with her own unique brand of wit and wisdom. Tuesday morning she was up early, studying for an exam.

Then seemingly out of the blue she was struck by an excruciating, stabbing pain in the midsection. Two hours, a CT scan, and a welcome dose of morphine later she was learning from an ER physician at St. Thomas that she was the unpleasantly and somewhat embarrassedly-surprised owner of a kidney stone.

And this morning? All seems back to normal.

There may be a few life lessons in this episode. Sic transit gloria, temper fugit, carpe diem et al. But I’d say the big one is best expressed by the quiet Beatle.  (Sorry, I know this is too predictable. But it too shall pass.)

Sunrise doesnt’t’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
Its not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

What sort of space makes you solitary?

March 17, 2012

Awoke in a foul and complaining mood this morning. First, because I’m home alone. It’s Spring Break for everybody else in the family. They lit out for the beach yesterday afternoon, straight from school, and left me stranded here with the dogs & cat & fish & a pile of grading. I enjoy my solitude, but prefer to take it in the rough proximity of loved ones.  Not to hurt the cat’s feelings, or minimize the consolations of a purr at your elbow… but it was just simply too quiet here last night. The silence was deafening.

Plus, I didn’t get to see them off because I had to go straight from the auto shop (brake job, they were worn down to a millimeter) to meet with another arbitrary rejection from the Academic Committee That Cannot Be Named.

And  topping it all, I have a headache.

But if you complain, as Eric Idle told Michael Palin, it does you no good etc. etc.

So here’s something to feel good about, reported in TimeA Daily Walk Can Reduce the Power of Weight-Gaining Genes

It’s the first study to bring the effect of exercise down to the genetic level, and to measure how physical activity can change the way genes work — in this case by inhibiting the activity of genes that promote weight gain. MORE:How Exercise Can Change Your DNA

The study also documented an increase in the activity of these genes among those who were more sedentary. For every two hours spent in front of the television every day, there was a 0.3 kg/m2 increase in Body Mass Index (BMI). The fact that walking and TV watching each had independent effects on BMI hints that it’s important both to increase exercise and reduce sedentary time in order to lose weight.

Losing weight is not my issue, but gaining momentum can be. What I really lose on my daily hour ramble is (for instance) angry feelings about obtuse academics, and feelings of excessive solitude, and aches in the cranium.

So I gotta get out there right now. Sorry cat, you don’t get to go. A purr will take a person only so far, and I too believe it’s really  crucial to walk the dogs – and not just for the many, many health benefits. This morning I’ll be pondering one of Thoreau’s more interesting reflections on what it really means to be alone.

Men frequently say to me, “I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially.” I am tempted to reply to such—This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another. What do we want most to dwell near to? Not to many men surely, the depot, the post-office, the bar-room, the meeting-house, the school-house, the grocery, Beacon Hill, or the Five Points, where men most congregate, but to the perennial source of our life, whence in all our experience we have found that to issue, as the willow stands near the water and sends out its roots in that direction. This will vary with different natures, but this is the place where a wise man will dig his cellar…. Walden

Henry was wrong about one thing: I’ve found that an exertion of the legs can close some of the gap between people. I’ll probably have to walk from here to the gulf, though, to feel better about that *&%$! committee.

Good to the last drop

December 15, 2011

Gave the last CoPhi finals of 2011, after one last round of presentations: Hannah on karma, Nick on abiding “Dudeism,” and Amanda on philosophy and coffee.

Amanda cited my favorite James quote on the subject: “A cup of strong coffee at the proper moment will entirely overturn for the time a man’s view of life.”  There’s a growing literature in the field of java studies. We’d already noted Uncommon Grounds a few weeks ago, in connection with Jennifer Hecht’s discussion of the Enlightenment (A festival of reason). As Steven Johnson knows, a cup is where a lot of good ideas come from. Amanda told us about Coffee: Grounds for Debate, which includes essays like “The Unexamined Cup is Not Worth Drinking,” “The Karma of Waking Up,” and “The Bean and the Golden Mean”.

Editors Austin and Parker write that

philosophy benefits from coffee, which sharpens attention and can heighten creativity… a philosopher is a machine that turns coffee into theories.

Well, that’s not so flattering. But “the concerns of philosophy demand our attention,” and I love the advice to “use your coffee time for paying attention to the world.” My experience is not just what I agree to attend to, it’s  what I’m actually awake for. And like the semester just concluded, it’s good to the last drop. It’s good just before a walk or a workout too.

Now, I must attend to grading.


October 19, 2010

My new favorite almost-centenarian, Ms. Tuttle, stretches and walks every morning. “That seems to be the secret.”

That, and her daily cocktail. “Moderation is a wonderful thing,” she says. “You’ve got to work, be cheerful and look for something fun to do. It’s a whole attitude.”

And I would add: sleep past dawn once in a while. At least during Fall Break.

in recovery

June 17, 2010

Official sunrise today was 5:30, I didn’t quite make it. But the sun’s still below the tree-line horizon so I’m not late by near-summer solstice standards. It’s about 70 degrees, dry and pleasant, not at all the steambath it’ll be, again, this afternoon.

As old Henry said, it’s hard not to pity those who’ve relinquished their subscription tickets to morning in this world. Most of them don’t know what they’re missing. I know I’m only missing a little extra sleep, which is nothing to the dawn. I’ll sleep you know when.

But enough idle chat about the weather. I’m really wondering this morning what it is about childhood that is compelling enough to warrant another book or course or post. What is it in this topic that compels my own compounding interest?

Short answer: there are qualities of  early youthfulness, observable in actual children, occasionally even retrievable from  the dungeons of personal memory, that make life worth living.  The adult world often seems  conspiratorially, cynically, heartlessly arranged to squash those qualities. We need them back.

That’s my working thesis.

Those qualities, off the top of my caffeinating head as Sol tops the trees, include:  adventurousness, curiosity, playfulness, spontaneity, trust… What else?

Then there are other qualities, mostly missing from childhood (and from the childish adulthood of so many of us) of which we’re much too careless. We all need those too, and if we don’t begin to get them in childhood we may never. Skepticism, commitment to reality, recognition that fantasy and fun are not always sufficient unto the day, sobriety, total honesty… in many instances these must be taught and learned, and re-learned, and re-inforced.

I’m interested in what we can learn from childhood, and in what we owe to children. I wonder: in what ways must we grow up? In what ways must we stay forever young?

I’m concerned that we do kids a personal disservice, and do humanity an irrecoverable injury, when we ignore and withhold these lessons.  My faith and hope , if I may co-opt those terms, is that writing about this is a step in the direction of recovery and maturity. We’ll see.


April 3, 2010

Didn’t see this one coming.

“A virus has pointless futility written into its very DNA… a virus exists for the sole purpose of making more viruses… It’s the futility of it that gets to me, as I blow my nose yet again and gasp for breath.” Tell me about it, Richard.  Plus, it’s raining. I’m going back to bed now.

grading w/vigor

March 20, 2010

It’s the weekend, but no sleeping in for me today. My presence at Mother-in-law’s house (an hour and a half down the pike) is required shortly.

So, I set the iHome to get me up and grading early. Wasn’t even going to indulge any morning reflections today. But then the dulcet voice of Richard Dawkins came on, lighting the dark, reading from the final sections of Greatest Show on Earth.  How can I possibly not reflect? (Strange, isn’t it, to have to choose between grading and thinking?) But I’ll be brief.

First, Dawkins was noting Darwin’s “bending over backwards” to console us for nature’s brutality in the struggle for existence. “When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt [dubious], that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.”

Simple reflection: I love that bold emboldened declaration, and try to live by it.

Then: “On Darwin’s worldview, everything about the human mind, all our emotions and spiritual pretensions, all arts and mathematics, philosophy and music, all feats of intellect and of spirit, are themselves productions of the same process that delivered the higher animals. It is not just that without evolved brains spirituality and music would be impossible. More pointedly, brains were naturally selected to increase in capacity and power for utilitarian reasons, until those higher faculties of intellect and spirit emerged… The Darwinian world-view does not denigrate the higher human faculties, does not ‘reduce’ them to a plane of indignity.”

And so, intellect and spirit are exalted by their association with humble origins. There is grandeur in this view of life.

And there’s no indignity in grading, either. “Up again, old heart.” (Emerson was an evolutionist too.) Vigor, health! Get happy!