I am not a physical person. I am intensely cerebral, so lost in my thoughts and work that I forget to stand up, go outside, and take bathroom breaks. Because of my sedentary disposition and underdeveloped mind-body connection, I find it important to dedicate a block of time each day to moving my body.
Exercise is a cornerstone of my life. If you’re looking to read about the physical benefits of exercise, however, you’re in the wrong place. I can’t speak with authority on those matters, nor do I currently seek specific physical results. What I can vouch for is the tremendous impact exercise has had on my mental health and artistic practice.
When I talk about “exercise” and “working out,” I'm referring to an uninterrupted spurt of moderate-intensity (or higher) activity typically lasting an hour. Exercise may mean something completely different for you, so please contextualize as you see fit.
This is why I love exercise:
- It starts my morning off right. I love to work out in the morning, before my hazy optimism has a chance to fade. Working out wakes me up and prepares me for the day. If I’m sleep-deprived and have to be somewhere really early, it’s even more crucial for me to squeeze in my workout, otherwise, I’ll be doubly groggy. Maybe if I'd exercised before school, I wouldn't have fallen asleep in every high school class and earned the nickname “zombie.”
- It prepares me to interface with people. Being around other people is a huge energy suck for me, so I need to muster up my own reserves first. I know this sounds dramatic, but it’s just the way it is. Exercise is my time, and as an extreme introvert, I need my time before I can proceed with my day and make room for others. Seeing me pre-workout is like seeing other people pre-morning coffee.
- Learning! Listening! Reading! Watching! I constantly consume a ridiculous amount of information in various mediums: podcasts, paperbacks, Kindle books, magazines, newspapers, chapbooks, blogs, newsletters, webinars, tv episodes, Spotify Discover playlists, and more. I do the vast majority of my reading and listening at the gym. This allows me to learn and enjoy many things I wouldn’t otherwise carve out time for, plus it encourages me to keep better focus during the day, since I know I can always save an article for later. My friends call me Encyclopedia Tan, largely due to the vast amount of knowledge I soak up at the gym. It really is my secret weapon (along with listening to podcasts in the car).
- Work catchup. Work inevitably does spill over to my precious gym time, but something about sweating on the elliptical while marking up a score or studying required text makes the tasks easier. The change of setting does something to my brain that makes me access and interpret information in a fresher way. I even printed out this blog and proofread it at the gym before posting.
- Social catchup. Similar to the above point, checking emails and getting pesky administrative tasks out of the way is easier when I’m at the gym. Toward the end of my workout (once I’ve waken up to myself), I sometimes begin to text friends back from the night before. I also check my Instagram feed during my 5 minute cool down, which forces me to scroll quickly and be selective about who I follow in the first place. I know a lot of people consider social media a huge waste of time, but I’m a staunch defender of it, for reasons I’ll likely explain in a future blog or podcast.
- Creative ideas. I call the gym my “idea incubator.” Showers and workouts (of all kinds) are magical havens for creative problem solving, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Countless concepts and conundrums have been birthed and solved while sweating.
- It can provide a nice break in the day. When I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, working out in the afternoon or early evening serves as a nice recess time. It’s a perfect break if I’m switching gears between two projects. It also dramatically increases my mood, as I tend to devolve into frustration and fizzled focus when I work for too many hours.
- It makes my body feel things. Not only am I naturally sedentary, but I also resist almost anything that reminds me of possessing a physical body (other than frighteningly intense deep tissue massages). I avoid cold, hate the act of putting on lotion, don’t like running my hands under water or wearing clothes that rub my skin, showering, or even paying attention to my breath. Thus, exercising and sweating and being dirty then showering afterward and being exposed to the elements is important for me. It’s one of the few times I inhabit my body. Otherwise, I feel like a floating brain in space.
- Exploring a new city. I’ve talked about the gym quite a bit, but of course I can’t always work out at the gym, especially if I’m traveling. If I can’t go to a gym, I go running. It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground quickly. I don’t always have a ton of time to explore a new place I’m in, and jogging allows me to see far more things than I would otherwise, plus it’s nice to stumble upon the unexpected — I’ve seen all kinds of hidden beautiful treasures.
- The comfort of routine and maintained health. I’m a creature of habit who falls apart if I don’t have certain routines or rituals or schedules. As an independent artist, many aspects of my schedule, work, and finances are unpredictable. The more things I can hold onto, cherish, and count on, the better off I am.
What’s your relationship to exercise? How does it fit into your life (or not)? What other things inspire and stabilize you?