On Training Your Body

In an age where smartphones have taken over, where we scroll through our Timelines unclear of the information we search for, where the news floods us with shocking and tragic information we are often unable to utilise or even remember, we need physical activity and training.  It’s all too easy to forget what it is to strain, sweat and sprint.  To be a body.  The modern world has created Cartesianists out of the masses.  A dualist idea of the body and mind, where we have libraries and gyms; a place for the mind and a place for the body. Intellectuals and athletes have to be separated, by physical appearance, by uniform, by stereotype. It’s easy to forget we are all a bit of both, but we should explore the interconnectedness between the two.

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Before writing this essay I worked out for four hours; various running drills, jumps and runs, 200m track repetitions and gym. I feel fit, in a world where lifestyle can veer towards physical inactivity.

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What has kept me competitively running for over a decade, is the experience itself.  I don’t exercise for vast amounts of money, or to lower my blood pressure, or to gain biceps and quads.  Sprinting is a brief but intense experience, embracing bodily existence. It encourages a sense of pride and power, amplifying the feeling of self; the latter perhaps an explanation for the most infamous egotistical sprinters.

But the experience is not all about the self.  Competing at elite level in sport has taught me many things that working in an office has failed to.  It can teach virtues of patience and courage.  It can show us the fine lines between success and failure, and the often unforgiving nature of the world. It teaches us that cheating is both a natural component to human beings, from the Ancient Olympiad to TUE-abuse and exploiting loop-holes in modern sports law, yet also the destruction of an enchanted world we create in sports and games.

No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.’ –Socrates

There is also an aspect of pleasurable suffering.  The type of suffering that is freely chosen and sometimes self-induced can be an immense type of pleasure.  In this sense, training your body can have a therapeutic use.   The satisfaction, for instance, of watching your muscles grow during weight-training cycles can bring with it a type of pleasure.  Getting bigger, stronger, and looking better can be both incredibly fulfilling and addictive.  The huge mirrors in our gyms emphasize the aesthetic beauty of new lines and harmonies, and there seems a strong artistic element to a bodybuilder sculpting his body to its perfect form. And although seemingly on a superficial level, the rewarding muscles and abs we get from training our bodies can transcend physical appearance and lead to a deeper sense of personal accomplishment.

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Also noteworthy is the social side to physical activity; training partners can motivate, coaches can inspire.  Being part of a team, club or sports group gives us a community and relationship aspect to physical exercise.  We create an enchanted world in social games, and we can learn from them loyalty and friendship.  We can experience an enchanted, happy state, both from this sense of being part of something greater than you, and perhaps some sort of spiritual oneness.  I don’t like to label myself an atheist, defining myself by something I don’t believe in; I take pride in an empirical, humanist outlook on life, devoid of the supernatural.  However, after a forth – or maybe fifth – hard run on the track, I find myself lying on an often wet or dirty surface looking up at the sky.  And there’s something spiritual about the sensation of pushing past the metaphorical barrier to the very point of your physical abilities.  A quasi-religious aspect, of reality slightly distorted, the senses slightly faltering, being at one with yourself, breathing heavily, and operating a long way out of your comfort zone.  But when it’s all over there’s an odd satisfaction. It rings true; healthy body, healthy mind.

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‘What man is happy?

“He who has a healthy body, a resourceful mind and a docile nature.”’

– Thales

What once was a rallying cry in the eighteenth century for more knowledge, in hope that awareness and information would lead us to better health, wellbeing and happiness, is now a silence of mass information.  In the digital age we have so much information that we don’t know what to do with it.  But this has not necessarily made us healthier or happier.  High-sugar diets lead us to obesity, type-II diabetes and hypertension, whilst increased carbon emissions arguably lead to cardiovascular disease.  Sitting at a desk for nine hours per day has ushered us towards an inactivity epidemic. The ratio of working our brains to working our bodies needs a tilt in the right direction.  When we stretch and run and lift heavy weights we discover pleasure, wholeness, a transcendent gratification.  When we sit in front of an institutional light looking at a computer, not so much! The problem of course, is that, with such busy lives, that do not cater for periods of exercise, why should we cram high intensity bursts in to our few breaks or small gaps of free time? Well, Scottish epidemiologist Jerry Morris conducted a study using post-war London buses.  The bus driver would sit all day, whilst the conductor would be walking, burning roughly twenty times more calories as the driver, considerably more active.  Morris’ study suggested that the driver’s inactivity made him twice as likely to get heart disease than the active conductor.  Inactive people tend to live shorter lives.

Today physical inactivity is a major risk for life-style diseases around the globe, killing five million people per year globally – a number equal to smoking-related deaths.  Longevity and physical activity go hand in hand. Pushing your body keeps the mind well and pushes disease away from the body.  As scientists are asserting the understanding that cardiovascular adaptations to exercise have a positive impact on human health, I would suggest that high-intensity exercise could have significant and long-term health benefits.  So, run for your life.