After touring Cuba (and boy, was that great!) I returned to a pile of tasks that had to be done. The pile was messy and stale. So on Monday morning I launched into it, bore down and by the end of the day I was feeling pleased at how much I had gotten done.
That night I stayed in and took it easy so I could hit it the next day with a clear head. Tuesday morning I was off and running. By end of day I was happy again with how much progress I had made. The pile had been worked down considerably. New things had piled up, but I was making headway. Tuesday evening I planned to run some errands. But when I got to the door it was pouring rain and I had no umbrella, so I went back inside. Wednesday morning I was up and at it again early, keeping up the pace.
But by midday I started feeling foggy in the brain. My mind was stalled. I was losing focus, not sure which task to undertake next. Then I realized I hadn’t been outside for almost three days. Sure, I had gotten a lot of work done. But the value of it seemed to dissolve as soon as it was done. It just passed into the eternal flow and I remained where I was, swimming upstream, going nowhere.
Finally facing the fact that I was not accomplishing anything in that state, I decided to take a walk, mail a bill, maybe go to the coffee shop and consume a pastry and a latte. In my muddled state it was hard to get organized and out the door. But I did. Otherwise I might still be sitting there.
Once I got outside, I was instantly transformed. The moment I could feel my feet on the ground, and the sun and breeze on my cheek, it all began to make sense again. I was clearly focused on the world around me, energized by fresh air drawn into my lungs, oxygen infusing my blood, introducing combustion into my body, producing energy. My eyes and ears were riveted to the matrix of shapes, sights and sounds in the space surrounding me. Gravity re-magnetized me, realigned the fibers of my being.
Walking outdoors I felt joy, raw physical exuberance. When I felt the movement of my muscles against my coat I realized it was the first time I had been conscious of my body in some time. I felt as if I were coming back to life. While sitting immobile I seemed to be moving toward dissolution, running down. When I got outside, the process reversed and I was rejuvenated, brought back to life.
Being confined to a small space is so miserable for human beings that our society has designated imprisonment as its most severe form of punishment short of the death penalty. That being the case, why would I voluntarily confine myself?
But I do, and I see others doing the same thing. I was raised with a staunch work ethic and I still live by it. I have great admiration for anyone who accomplishes a lot of work. But there is a limit. We are not machines. We must nurture our humanness and not turn over our joy of life to the single-minded pursuit of a livelihood. Man cannot live by bread alone.
It’s not healthy to sit in one place too long. Human beings need to move. We were born with legs, not roots. Dr. Freud called motion the first pleasure principle, and we confirm it when we calm a baby by bouncing her around or going for a ride. It’s pretty much the same thing that happened when I went for a walk.
The time spent taking a break from work would more than make up for itself by the clarity that would be gained when I returned to work. In the muddled state I was in I might have spent hours staring at the screen and not getting much done.
I think movement is the core element of health. Life is movement, stillness is death. If you don’t keep moving, your bodily functions atrophy. The more sedentary you are, the faster the aging process takes place. This is not just conjecture.
Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, has sounded the alarm that one of the biggest threats to health today is sitting too much.
As a scientist charged with caring for the health of astronauts, Vernikos was shocked to observe how debilitated astronauts were returning after a week of inactivity and weightlessness. Being in space accelerated the aging process measurably. Astronauts were losing one year’s worth of bone and muscle mass in one week spent in space. Their coordination and balance were shot and they could barely walk.
Further studies convinced Vernikos that good health required frequent interaction with gravity. Sitting for long periods increases the risk of heart attack, diabetes and other illnesses. The problem is not alleviated by exercise periods once a week or even once a day. You have to keep moving at intervals throughout the day. According to Vernikos, if you sit for an hour, you should break it up by getting up and moving every 15 minutes.
Movement is life. Life is movement. It’s simple, but not so easy to incorporate in our society.
This brings us back to travel. I know that travel renews my mind and body by the way it makes me feel. But there is plenty of scientific confirmation. One recent study commissioned by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, the Global Commission on Aging and the U.S. Travel Association showed that travel helps prevent dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease, and it improves mood.
The study also showed that moving into a “green space,” a natural environment, provides immediate as well as long-lasting beneficial effects on health and well-being. Many other studies back this up, but most of us know this by experience.
Travel is movement in multiple dimensions. Getting bounced around may be enough motion to make a baby happy, but when we are older our needs are more complex. We need movement not only for the body, but for the mind and spirit. And there is no more concentrated form of enrichment than travel. Travel works on all of those levels at once.
In my simple-minded way, I believe that travel extends your time. Time has more than one dimension. The week I stay hunched over the computer at the office may be the same length as my week exploring Cuba, but it is not of the same depth.
The days I spent in the office flew by, nearly indistinguishable from one another. I just kept pumping completed work down the out-hole and receiving additional work through the in-chute. In that world, days run together. They start to feel as if they are all the same day, just starting over again in the morning.
When I get too deep into the work grind without relief I feel like Sisyphus, pushing my boulder to the top of the mountain only to see it roll back to the bottom again so I can do it again the next day. When I feel like that, I know I am overdue for a trip.
The days touring Cuba stand in my memory as giant cliffs, strong and tall, and never to be forgotten. That is why I have to travel. I know that travel brings me to life when I am fading. It is the same process that took place when I went out for a walk, but magnified. When you travel, it expands your perspective instantly. You recover your clarity. You get a new perspective on where you fit into the world and what is important in life.
Then when you return to the office your powers will be much greater than when you were stale. Travel expands your powers by orders of magnitude.
This is my truth and I’m standing by it!
So for now, I wish you happy travels.
Your humble reporter,
A. Colin Treadwell