Studies show that regular exercise can help relieve depression and help slow — or even reverse — aging disorders such as heart disease, arthritis and osteoporosis. Perhaps just as important, exercise can be the conduit of the creative forces that abide within us all.
Catching an Idea
by Jean Weiss
Spend a few dinners with me and you’ll note that I pepper my conversation with facts that revolve around Lakeside, the high school I attended. I’ll tell you that Lakeside graduates, even the ones who later earned Ph.D.s from Yale and MBAs from Harvard, believe our best education came from high school. I’ll tell you that the founder of Microsoft went to Lakeside, where there was a beastly, oversized computer set up in the math and science building; I’ll say that my ninth-grade art teacher, a self-styled inspirational who wrote a best-selling book about kindergarten, was the most discouraging role model I’ve ever had. For better or for worse, these pieces of information — imparted with the intent to entertain — are binders that pull together the construct of Jean. Yet perhaps the most significant influence of Lakeside is left unsaid: During high school, I learned how to use exercise to transform my energy.
Every member of my family possesses a surplus of energy, and I am no exception. Yet my energy seems to come in two forms. One form is that of an action hero: She accomplishes every goal; crosses off every item from her to-do list; and is godmother, sister, daughter and rock star to all. The other form is (hopefully) a higher-functioning version of the goofy television character, lawyer Ally McBeal. She spends a lot of her time distracted, as if walking through clouds. To the onlooker, for example, it may appear as if my daily trip to the post office takes place atop a concrete sidewalk. Whereas in my head, I’m walking over the fertile territory of creativity, smack dab into the center of my right brain. Great ideas spontaneously erupt from these moments. Great ideas just as quickly dissipate. Catching these free-ranging great ideas for translation onto paper is a crucial link to being a writer. By teaching an exercise ethic, my high school helped me navigate this tricky territory.
The ethic began with the dreaded 12-minute run, to which every Lakesider had to submit in order to measure our fitness level. It continued with cross country — whose idea was it that faculty and students should jog at least 30 minutes several times a week? Then, I learned that I had to participate in a sport every season. Not just intramural, but on a team. I tried track and field with unimpressive results. Then I went out for softball, where I lettered and to everyone’s surprise, scored the season’s second-highest batting average. Next, I turned to crew and became the stroke of our novice eight. Inspired, I began running longer distances, for fun. I went on, after high school, to take up rock climbing, mountain biking and telemark skiing. Now I’ve added weight training and yoga, and I am considering a class in static trapeze.
Slowly, I’ve learned to love exercise. More importantly, I’ve learned how exercise can transform my energy from thinking into doing. In the middle of a work day, if I’m tripping over myself, deep in thought as I return from the post office, I have a plan that works. I head for my closet, pull on my sweats, and go for a short run. When I return to my desk and begin to write, a waterfall of ideas trickles from my right brain, over to the left, then down into my hands and fingers. The energy feels at once buoyant and smooth. Effortlessly, it all flows out.
Jean Weiss is the former executive editor of Delicious! and the former senior editor of Women Outside.