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Reach For It

You’ve heard the saying, “it’s like riding a bike” – meaning that once you’ve learned an action, it becomes so ingrained (becomes instinct in a sense) that you’ll always be able to do it, no matter if it’s been years since you’ve performed the action. I’m sorry to tell you, folks, but there’s not a whole lot of truth in that statement.

Don’t get me wrong – it is a little true. If you learned to ride a bike as a kid, but it’s been years since you’ve been on one, the balance centers in your brain will likely “remember” how to keep you upright on the bike, although you’ll probably feel wobbly and awkward until the rest of your body “remembers” how to bicycle as well. It may take you several days or even a few weeks of regular practice to really feel comfortable on your bike again.

There are very few activities for which we humans have the luxury of maintaining proficiency without effort. How much of your college math do you remember? I bet not much, if you’ve not really used it since then. Our minds and physical bodies are alike in that way. Maybe you were a hot shot basketball player in high school, but if you’ve not visited the court regularly since then, it’s likely you wouldn’t perform to your liking at a pickup game with buddies.

As I’ve said before, muscles fall into the “use it or lose it category” – muscles that aren’t used regularly shrink, become weak and prone to injury, and may even waste away. Here’s another area where modern society has it out for us. Progress gives us fewer and fewer reasons to use our muscles, and as we age, we tend to look for those reasons less and less. We rearrange our whole lives, from our transportation to our entertainment to the way we make our food, so that we have to move as little as possible. It’s called “streamlining” or “efficiency.” And there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but we humans must move or we eventually fall apart.

In his book The Elements of Effort: Reflections on the Art and Science of Running, author John Jerome writes about this same topic:

“The other day, I caught myself rearranging things in the kitchen so I wouldn’t have to reach up to the top shelf so often. That’s exactly wrong. Reaching for the top shelf is what I need. I should be arranging my kitchen to make things more difficult. This is kitchen as metaphor, of course, for whatever the workshop of one’s daily life happens to be. The same principles apply: in a perverse way, convenience is the enemy. (174)”

While I don’t necessarily mean for you to go rearrange your kitchen, I do want you to remember the principle behind the thought – move more. It seems simple, and it is. Walk and jump and stretch and bend and reach. Give your body what it wants, and it will reward you a hundredfold. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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