don’t sit your life

6 Nov

I have a print made by someone who went to the Maine College of Art with my spouse many years ago now. It’s worn around the edges and has holes in it made by the many thumbtacks that have held it up on the boards above my different desks. It’s a series of drawings – five in total – that run, left to right: highchair, toddler’s chair, table chair, lounge chair, and wheelchair. And it has the caption, “don’t sit your life.” The message, of course, is to keep moving. Sitting can kill us, so the research says.

I personally sit way too much. I’ve struggled a lot with my weight over the past few years, in large part because I don’t move enough. My job is fairly sedentary and as one gets heavier, it gets all the harder to exercise. Kind of a double-edged sword. Or a catch-22.

IMG_7937One thing I’m fairly consistent about, however, is the morning walk with my dog. It’s one of the benefits of having a dog. We get up each morning during the work week and take a half-hour to 45-minute walk through our neighborhood park. It’s a routine that I like very much and it’s the very first thing I do, Monday thru Friday. 

I’ve always enjoyed walking as both a form of physical exercise and also as something that improves my mental health. It helps me think. It clears my head. It lets me focus on things around me – weather, birds, trees, paths – rather than all of the thoughts rambling inside my head. 

Back when I studied exercise physiology, I was drawn to the connections between physical activity and mental health. Studies show that exercise benefits childhood development, improves cognition both in young people and adults, is effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety, and helps in slowing the decline of our cognitive functions as we age. Bottom line, exercise is good for our brains. 

I got to thinking about this more recently after hearing a keynote lecture by Lesley McAra, director of the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The lecture, “Who or what are universities for? Reflections on the communication and use of scientific knowledge” was a stellar opening for FORCE19, held in Edinburgh last month. Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 4.13.45 PM It was the last slide, too, her closing thoughts, that really impressed me. Quoting from the contemporary British author, Robert MacFarlane, she reminded us all that we live here now, following countless many who’ve come before us. And she asked us to reflect on how and why and what we do as we tramp along our daily paths during our lives, will ever be remembered by those who come along after us – thousands of years from now. Great question.

And as I stated earlier, I enjoy walking. Walking around the streets of Edinburgh, it was easy to be mindful of how long people have been roaming the planet. It is a city so very much older than any in the United States where I live. I walked along, thinking of all of the others who, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago, walked on the same roads. And when I got home from the meetings, I ordered Robert MacFarlane’s book, The Old Ways. The one that Dr. McAra had quoted from in her talk. I’ve been carrying it with me since.

Reading this particular passage, I got to thinking, again, about the importance of walking, the changes to libraries and the delivery of scholarly works, and how the two might be interconnected – and not necessarily in a good way:

IMG_7958

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert MacFarlane, pg. 27.

The convenience of information at our fingertips means that we can sit and type and search and find the article(s) we need, all without ever having to get up and walk to the library, or walk through the shelves. I’ve read in the past how the journal article evolving from something couched in-between other articles, bound up in a journal, to a stand-alone entity that you find and download (or read online), can have an effect. We risk the loss of those moments of serendipity – when reading something in a journal leads you to notice the article that comes before it, or the one a few pages away, and you make a connection that you can’t and won’t make when the connection is broken. Browsing shelves, one title can lead to another and another and our minds draw lines and create intersections and some incredibly creative solutions or ideas can occur. 

But more, is there not something else happening simply by our moving that helps to spark these creative moments? Does taking a break, walking away from a desk or a computer screen, walking to a physical library to seek out that article, can this be something we really don’t wish to sacrifice? Might our minds work better when we move?

One of our best contemporary singer-songwriters, Mary Chapin Carpenter, has spoken often of her habit of “song-walking” and how important it is to her creative process. Research and science and medicine are all creative processes, too. I’ve no doubt that if I asked researchers on my campus what they do when the get stuck trying to figure something out, any number of them would answer “take a walk.” Once upon a time, that walk may have been to the library or more, once upon a time walking to the library was simply part of a day’s work. And that natural pattern may well have nurtured some ideas and solutions, without them ever having noticed.

IMG_7919The floors of my library look like this today. We’ve been undergoing a renovation that will result in our collection being about 1/3 of what it once was. This isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. It opens up space that students need for all kinds of study set-ups. It gives us a chance to think of how we can utilize our space differently. Better. It’s exciting. But it also makes me aware of what’s lost. The shelves of my library left footprints behind. And I can still remember what they held.

I need to take more walks to generate more thoughts for blog posts. I’ve missed spending time here.

 

 

5 Responses to “don’t sit your life”

  1. nclairoux November 7, 2019 at 8:40 am #

    And we’ve missed you too! Happy walking Sally xx

    • salgore November 7, 2019 at 10:19 am #

      Thank you, Natalie! xo

  2. Maureen Dunn November 7, 2019 at 10:45 am #

    I love that picture, Sally. We had our own “carpet archeology” here two years ago when the library was renovated (moving stacks, etc.) for the first time since 1981. It was funny how many long-term employees got wind of it, and came up to look at the revealed carpet and reminisce. 🙂 As far as sitting goes, I’ve been doing way too much of it in the last few months, and while my preferred kinetic thinking involves running rather than walking, not having it in my life right now – for various reasons, but mostly time constraints – is making me feel stifled and ineffective. I’m currently trying to figure out how to make November more active. Even my Fitbit has given up alerting me and just kind of sighs regretfully when I download my stats. LOL! And as for the loss of serendipity – yes, yes, yes! One of my biggest worries. Not just information serendipity, but intercollegiate serendipity. Our clinicians used to meet and mingle in the library – now there’s no need to. And loss of shared knowledge ensues.

  3. Jeanie Vander Pyl November 8, 2019 at 1:06 pm #

    Thanks for the renewal of your Blog. I also relish my walking time but not owning a dog, don’t get out in the morning and by the time I leave work it’s now so dark I find it difficult to have my evening walk Somehow I can do walks when it’s warm and dark, or cold and light, but not when it’s dark and cold. So I’m considering a lunch time walk instead of lunch at my desk.
    By necessity, Europeans and urban dwellers do more walking and I wonder if that leads to being more thoughtful or does the setting of your walk make a difference?
    Our library too will soon have evidence of past banks of book shelves, but hopefully replacing shelving with comfortable seating and group study areas will better suit our staff.
    Hopefully some serendipity will return.

    • salgore November 12, 2019 at 10:59 am #

      Thank you, Jeanie! I hope the same.

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