One of the great things about certain types of exercise is that we can address two vital questions with one single action:
- Am I getting enough physical exercise?
- Am I getting enough high-quality solitude?
I’m willing to be the Oracle of the Obvious sometimes (just ask my wife or kids). But I won’t belabor the “why exercise?” question here.
But let’s discuss “why solitude?” and also “why is exercise time especially good solitude?” These should be prominent themes for any guy doubling down on body-and-soul health.
First of all, I’m talking really alone, with all your thoughts and feelings. Not just by yourself doing email, social media, or watching TV (or even reading).
Real solitude helps us mentally refresh and then get the best from what a refreshed and relaxed mind brings. Pick your metaphor: reboot, wipe the slate, change your oil, get away from it all. High-quality solitude delivers. When we’re alone and free from much external stimuli, vital life-enhancing things like perspective, creativity and problem-solving often bubble up naturally.
“The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.” -Thomas A. Edison
All our work and personal endeavors benefit from this. Even our relationships benefit from the richer perspectives and empathy we get in touch with via solitude.
Here’s an article on the psychology of solitude and why it helps. And this article is five years old now. So please mentally “turn up” things it says about unplugging from 24/7 technology, which is even more needed in 2017!
WHY IS EXERCISE TIME ESPECIALLY GOOD SOLITUDE?
The first aspect of this is simple – it’s about your limited time. With all the demands of work, family and other personal pursuits, do you have separate time for exercise and high-quality solitude? For most guys on most days, that’s a “no.” The solution: a two-fer on your time, with a workout that brings solitude.
But beyond that, solitude is enhanced by the physical and mental states exercise induces.
Physically, stress hormones are reduced and endorphins, dopamine and other positive-feeling neurotransmitters increased. Your body chemistry becomes conducive to mental relaxation and productive reflection.
Mentally, you have the perfect level of outside stimuli:
- Enough so that, with some things to pay low-grade attention to, you’re not in a pure mental echo-chamber. (Total lack of such stimuli is why some people struggle with meditation. It’s really hard to shut down “mental chatter” when that’s all your trying to do).
- But not so much stimuli that all you’re doing is reacting to the outside world, either.
Running/hiking/walking, cycling (solo) and swimming really deliver these benefits. Maybe doing a strength routine does, too. If you lock in to what you’re doing and tune out all the blaring music, TVs, sound of cardio machines, etc. that are part of most gym workouts. But I’m dubious of this, and urge you to get out of the gym or studio/class environment regularly, man. Even at home, a strength routine tends to allow much less “settle into a groove and relax” feeling than do more cardio-focused things.
WHERE SOLITUDE BELONGS IN YOUR FITNESS & WELLNESS MIX
Yeah, it’s true there are benefits to exercising with other people. These include motivation/accountability to work out, and then having other people to “push” you on intensity. Plus the basic fact that you’re spending time with friends, which is also (like solitude) life-enhancing (even life extending)…but time-challenged.
So bearing in mind both the “solitude” and “social” benefits of exercise, I suggest:
- Once or twice a week have a solo, reflection-enabling workout
- Also take at least a couple of walks per week on your own, as part of the workday, walking your dog, or whatever it takes
- If useful and fun for you, use other weekly workout occasions to get the benefits of working out with others – cycling with buddies, doing a group HITT class, going to a yoga studio, a vigorous hike, paddling kayaks or SUP boards…you figure out what!
“Yeah, you know when I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself.” (George Thorogood, When I Drink Alone—click to listen)
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