I am wired to move, and move when I am wired. In Yoda-speak: a kinesthetic learner I am. My brain wants me to move; needs me to move. Whoever is at the controls, or is in control, feels better when I am moving.
Picture a tiny animatronic human, like one of the creatures in Men In Black. There is a scene in that movie that fits my image perfectly. The alien on the outside clearly looks human, but the creature opens his chest or gets its head blown off (I forget which) and there is a little man inside working the controls like a biomechanical puppeteer.
I am a Physical Education and Wellness teacher, so my little ‘inner man’ is usually eager to go. Recently I had an important interview, for a teaching position in another school district, and I took the day off to get in touch with my ‘Inner Man’.
I went to the Gym.
There is a bike at Cardinal Fitness, an exercise bike that has a virtual rider who turns when I move the handlebars. I did 10 miles and about 800 calories. Maybe 40 minutes on the bike. I zipped home and then attacked my garden, working my body to a serious sweat for maybe the next four hours. More oxygen to my brain; my brain was happy; it got its oxygen fix and then some. My brain craved exercise and told me, in its Inner Man way, that it wanted lots and lots of oxygenated blood, which it basically feeds on.
To quote John Ratey, M.D., author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, “Exercise is miracle grow to the brain.”
Let’s get back to my garden. I worked the asphalt out of my hind-end and quit at a sensible time. The interview was at 5:00 pm at an elementary school across town. It was time to quit tilling and digging my garden for planting.
I could have had a nap but held off.
Out of the shower I was calm, thinking about the questions the Principal might ask me. I was calm because the exercise I got earlier calmed me down, equaled both sides of the mysterious equation of mind and body. I worked out, did big things with my arms and legs and core. I sweat, profusely, when I was digging up sod with the spade and hauling it in the wheel barrow.
I sat down at my desk to work on this article, sketching things out and jotting things down. I felt good, relaxed, calm, and not yet sore from the exertion. My hands were a little shaky from the jarring and jolting of digging holes for the small fence posts I put into the hard Indiana ground.
My garden will soon have plants inside it that I will carefully tend so that good things grow, especially cucumbers and tomatoes. My garden was a needed physical distraction. As I worked in it I allowed my mind to roam free to nowhere. I got lost in the hard work, but the hard work was not lost on me.
It is a little after 4:00 pm.
I am downstairs, at my desk, eyes closed, breathing deeply. I hear my wife come home from school, where she also teaches physical education, only at a Catholic school on the northeast side of Indianapolis. Breathe in and out. I felt wonderfully relaxed. Calm. Focused. Alert.
I’ll leave at about 4:18, give myself plenty of time in case something happens and my time goes somewhere else. I went upstairs, said hello, and began to get dressed. I say goodbye to my wife and sons.
Driving to the school I got caught in traffic, a seemingly endless line of cars going to or coming from somewhere, anywhere, I didn’t care.
4:22. Traffic can be a huge stressor but I was as calm as the cucumbers I’d be seeing in three weeks or so.
4:32. Haven’t moved in ten minutes. Traffic got stupid and I got a little stressed and panicky – but my brain, still faintly glowing from all that rich oxygen it got earlier – handled it in stride.
4:38. Open the window. Turn on the radio. We just moved twenty feet, then fifty, then a hundred. Breathe in and out, in and out, out and in, out and in.
4:49. I got to the school with ten minutes to spare. I felt good, really, really good. The exercise. My brain was rewarding me, and would reward me again in fifteen minutes, when I would be asked a question that was a curve ball. I could never hit a curve ball.
I am still very calm and focused and unstressed. My brain is still buzzing from the intoxicating effects of the oxygenated blood. I sat next to the Vice-Principal and stared the Principal directly in one eye like Dad used to tell me to do.
My last interview, I was both late and stressed, and I definitely did not work out before; I most likely took a nap that I did not need and drank one too many Cokes.
I answered the Principal’s questions and gave calm, intelligent, well-thought answers. My alert mass of tissue, much of it composed of water, sitting squarely (well, sort of oblong-ly) inside my skull took that last curve-ball question and figured out how to hit it out of the park.
I had a successful interview and answered all questions well, succinctly, passionately, and smartly. There was a writing exercise and I attacked it like a big predator hunting easy prey. Exercise, especially before an important event like a job interview, makes the brain function at a much more efficient level. Specifically, cardio-respiratory exercise, like biking 10 miles at about a mile every 4 minutes, brings the brain an enormous amount of oxygen. It freely distributes it to a finger here and a toe there and the tip of the nose and a part of the body that supports you whenever you sit.
20% stays, though. 20% stays and that says a lot. Aerobic exercise allows us to hit curve balls when our ordinary, un-oxygenated selves believe and perceive that we can’t hit them.
So the next time you have something big on your radar screen, find time to work out, and hard. Your brain will love you for it and will step up to the plate. Your hands might shake a little and your buttocks and hamstrings might be a little sore, but whatever lies on your radar screen will be in good shape. You’ll handle it. Your brain will handle it, if you think to take care of it and give it the gift of exercise.
Author: Ted Scheck, a Physical Education and Wellness Teacher, is a husband, a
father and an exercise advocate. When he’s not hitting the bike at the
gym, you can usually find him in his garden – picking the perfect tomato.