Damon Young has a new book in the School of Life series, How to Think About Exercise. He says a bit about it on the Australian bookstore blog Booktopia:
One of the points of the book is that minds are not spiritual somethings, off in faraway neverlands. We are not minds who have bodies: we arebodies. And ‘mind’ is a verb, not a neat little noun — it’s something we do.
So the gym, swimming pool or yoga studio needn’t be spots for mindless physicality, and scholarship needn’t be sedentary. We can think through exercise. It can offer new ideas and impressions. It can also help to develop valuable dispositions: also known as ‘virtues’....
Young also has a piece in The Guardian, which I missed until tonight, about Darwin and exercise:
The grandfather of modern evolutionary theory walked in rain and sunshine, in youth and age, in company and solitude. This constitutional was not just for cardiovascular fitness, or to post his thousands of letters. It was a vital part of his intellectual routine.
Darwin's son said the naturalist's walks were for his "hard thinking": not simply because he analysed data, but because he allowed his mind to wander.... Obviously walking was not responsible for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, but a good footslog was certainly part of his cognitive labour – and still is for many today.
As someone who bicycles to work regularly, and for whom the gym is a reward for getting through work-- if I edit another 20 pages, I can hit the weights and rowing machine (really just an excuse for the sauna)-- I can testify that this is right on.
I wish I'd discovered it a lot earlier: for a long time I thought of myself as someone who didn't really like exercise, but once I reached my 40s, two things happened. First, I saw both my father (who's in his 70s) swimming miles each week and my kids playing sports, and realized that my self-image of myself as non-athletic probably was completely wrong. Second, I read John Ratey's great book Spark, and it (along with Laurence Gonzalez's Deep Survival and George Valliant's work on the Harvard Grant Study) made me realize just how important serious exercise is for sustained intellectual success.
Of course, after a moment's reflection it makes perfect sense. Given how important efficient blood flow is to keeping the brain running, and how many calories those three pound of electrified biochemistry within our skulls consume, it should be no surprise that the same things that make us physically strong make us mentally sharper as well. But in a more profound sense we're not just brains carried around in bodies: our minds, as Andy Clark will tell you, extend through brain and body (and into our most-trusted devices as well).