Exercise as a vehicle for epiphany

Back in high school I used to run cross country. Either through the summer or when I stopped senior year-I don’t really remember-I kept up my running habit, generally doing a few miles every day.

This isn’t about running however. This is about having epiphanies, and I distinctly remember I literally had at least one every single time I ran.

It didn’t happen during the run. But it always happened right after the run, as I was walking through my cooldown.

This always fascinated me, and there’s probably a very straightforward explanation for it, such as increased blood flow to the brain as a consequence of running. While running, physical exertion likely commands most of the blood flow, but during the cool down, I’m sure the brain gains the privilege of some increased oxygen supply.

The most intriguing thing is how subtle this entire process is. There’s nothing that feels distinctly different - I’m still the same person, thinking in the same way that I usually do. But for some reason, I’m able to generate thoughts of a greatly increased caliber.

It’s insidious. Why? Because the converse is also true. When we’re sleep deprived, stressed, not eating well, not exercising, or otherwise not at our peak, it’s all too easy to not notice the difference. We feel generally the same much of the time - down a cup of coffee and everything’s better. But the effects are definitely there.

The worse thing is being bad and not knowing we’re bad. How are you supposed to correct something when you don’t know it needs correcting? And it’s been suggested that it’s for the same reason that many people claim to operate just as well on a polyphasic sleep schedule - 2 hours of sleep? Sure, I feel great! But measure output quantitatively, and the results just don’t add up. Subjectively, we feel just the same. But when put to the test, we falter.

For me, the subtle difference is in my level of willpower. When I’m fully rested, I can just get shit done. I just can. When I’m not, I’ll probably spend 80% of the day bullshitting on Hacker News or doing small shit that doesn’t matter. Cognitively, I don’t feel all that different much of the time. But something’s definitely missing.

In any case, what sparked this musing was that I’ve recently started experiencing these ‘epiphanies’ again on my drive back home from the gym. It’s a very predictable pattern - it always strikes in a period of calm after the exertion. I had the thought for three of my last and future four blog posts (this included) while in the car on the way home from Lifetime.

So besides the general cautionary tale to sleep well and the encouragement to exercise, what’s the moral of this story? Well, I’d love to see something that increased the supply of oxygen to the brain constantly, if that wouldn’t kill us or something.


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