Take back some of the richness that life can offer

As I was driving to work this morning, I was thinking about how I wish I had time to exercise more. It’s my 7th week as an intern, and I have only gone on a run once in that time (a 2.5 mile run last week in 25:30 — pitiful considering that two months ago I was running 8-10 miles at least once a week). I got to thinking about all the patients I have to whom I recommend exercise (an almost literal panacea in terms of health benefits), but tell me they just don’t have time for it.

How did it come to be that we don’t have time for exercise? What’s with the explosion in obesity, and particularly childhood obesity?

Then the realization hit me, that all our modern conveniences have created a new way of life where we actually have to schedule time for things like exercise, when it used to be just a part of everyday life. I’m driving to work in my pickup, but people used to have to walk — even if you had a horse to ride, that still took a fair amount of physical effort. So much of our “work” these days is mental, and our bodies suffer as we sit at a computer desk all day long, day after day — something new research shows is devastating to your body, even if you hit the gym on your way home from work.

For most of us, gone are the days of plowing and digging, building your house by hand, picking your own food, and coming up with your own entertainment rather than sitting in front of a screen being passively entertained.

I think our lives have lost a lot of richness due to this fragmentation of our lives. “Exercise” didn’t used to be its own entity, because your day was packed with physical activity, from your morning chores, to working in the fields, to walking wherever you had to go, running and swimming and hiking and fishing as a carefree child and dancing the night away because there was no TV to squat in front of all night. Now “exercise” is a dreaded event which must be planned into our schedule, which we usually engage in alone, with only our iPod to keep us company.

Our consumption of food has been divorced from the simple joys of sowing, harvesting and preparing it. We feel hunger, look for the nearest golden arches and load up. Where is the investment? With such easy availability, no wonder we are adding up the pounds. To eat, you used to have to pick it yourself. Pound out the wheat yourself, knead the dough yourself, bake it, mix it … and now it’s as simple as, “a #1 please!”

The examples abound, of our modern technology making things yes, more convenient, but also robbing us of the joy of the process. Emails are much simpler to send, but where is the joy of carefully planning and penning a thoughtful letter, or receiving one? A text message is convenient to send, but what about sitting down to a cup of tea (or coffee) with your friend? It doesn’t get more convenient than television, but what about sitting on the porch, talking about life and watching the kids run around in the yard.

I’m not against technology or our modern advances — to be sure, I probably use them as much or more than the average American. But I can’t help but mourn the price that such technology comes with- a fast paced, “convenient” but empty life. Aren’t you tired of going through the motions? Make a commitment with me to try to escape the monotonous routine, and take back some of the richness that life can offer. It may not be efficient to stop and smell the roses, but it’s essential to a rich life.

Matthew Gibson is a family medicine resident who blogs at Doctor Matt’s Musings.

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