As a child, I was bookish, studious — one might say a nerd. While I enjoyed a bit of tag or hanging about on the monkey bars at recess, my idea of regular exercise was once-a-week gym class. Even then, I was a benchwarmer.
I only discovered the truth of the saying mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a sound body) as I grew older and my personal health flagged due to a sedentary lifestyle.
I started exercising for health reasons. Soon I found that as my body grew more active, so did my mind. A morning run or yoga class did wonders for my productivity throughout the day; they were even better than coffee! It was like I’d been sleepwalking through my whole life and had only just woken up to live it fully.
I took up long-distance running and discovered much about myself: not just about how much pounding my joints and muscles could take, but about how my mind responds when things get tough and what I’m willing to go through to achieve my goals. I also learned how to be at peace in every moment, whether it’s an easy jog under trees with birds chirping happily or the hard slog in the last three kilometers of a marathon.
Yoga helped me learn simply to be, to appreciate every breath and to be accepting of whatever state my body and mind are in on the day. This translated into everyday living, reducing stress levels and giving me more space to enjoy the day.
Being in the habit of taking care of myself physically helped balance out my life that had been until then a pursuit of academic achievements and degrees, then climbing the career ladder. It opened me up to new experiences. My circle grew from home, work, and nights out with friends to traveling in distant places, trying my hand at all kinds of sports and activities, making friends from different walks of life, deepening connections with my family, and searching out what I could do with my life.
But physical fitness is a tool, not an end in itself. During the times in my fitness journey that I’ve lost sight of that reality is when things took an unhealthy turn. I’m a writer by trade and at heart, but the deep physical work to prepare for long-distance racing left me mentally in a fog most days. It wasn’t helping accomplish what I needed to do professionally, and the training was just such a chore and no longer brought me joy — but I had to keep up appearances. (This was obviously an unbalanced way of looking at things.)
At this point in my life it’s no longer about chasing the flattest stomach or fastest time. It’s about whether these have any bearing in the long term. Being physically fit should add value to our lives, but unless one is a professional athlete our lives don’t revolve around it. Why should people exercise? Because they want to live healthier, longer. But why do you want to live longer? So that you can continue doing what you were meant to do on this planet, making a difference. Having a sharp mind in an able body enables me to do the work I have to do. And that’s what I’m focused on now.