Thinking at Three Miles an Hour

After many years of extremely desultory gym-attendance, I — well, I’m still attending the gym very desultorily.  (Once last week, for instance.)  But I also finally tried out the treadmill, and discovered something interesting about myself.

While one of the reasons, I must confess, that I don’t go to the gym very often is bashfulness, the real reason is that I get bored.  I would much rather walk for an hour out-of-doors than go to the gym for half an hour.  I used to fence occasionally, but fencing is in the evenings and I find it difficult to get enough sleep if I’ve been doing strong exercise after supper.

I’ve tried listening to music, and that mostly works, but several years ago I left my mini ipod (I can’t remember what type it was) on an airplane, and never bothered to replace it.  Coincidentally I never really went to the gym, either.  The elliptical was just not calling my name loudly enough.

Over the summer and into the beginning of fall I walked a fair amount in Halifax, trying to explore all the roads of the peninsula to fulfill one of the items on my list.  I didn’t finish, though I’m still working on it; life got in the way, as it so often does, and I couldn’t, or rather didn’t, make the time to walk for a full hour every day.  Now that I’m really going to head off on a big walk across Europe in six months, I have woken to the need to do some real training.  Hence the gym.

Setting bashfulness aside is difficult when you have students also in the gym, but I’m going with the theory that I’m helping to model healthy behaviour, as one of the other faculty pointed out when he started going to the gym for the first time in a long while last year.  (He’s an inspiration to me on this front.)  Since my office is actually inside the gym building, I really have no good excuse — I can easily go check when it’s free.

I’m still working on putting gym-going into my schedule.  I know it needs to become a must-do, like writing, but writing is in my best must-do slot (first thing in the morning), and I am once again experiencing difficulties in my sleep schedule.  But that’s boring.

What I found interesting about the treadmill was how much more I enjoyed walking on it than I enjoy the elliptical, the rowing machine, or even the stationary cycle — though this latter is also fun.  I realised recently what it is: I can think while walking.

This is not to say I can’t think while on the elliptical etc., but that I am not so accustomed to their motion that I can let my mind wander properly.  I am forever being pulled back to my body, to the slow ticking of seconds, to how I am not interested in what I am doing.  Half an hour on the elliptical is noticeable.

Half an hour on the treadmill I am somewhere in my imagination, happy.

I realised this when I was playing with the treadmill to see what my current normal walking pace is (about 3.25 km/hour, if you are interested), and what three miles an hour feels like.  Three miles an hour is a little faster than I can do thoughtlessly, but even after a couple of times I can feel myself adjusting to that pace, my thoughts matching it.  I got the treadmill up to just under 4 miles an hour (it’s American), which is just below running speed, and that required me to pay attention again.

Between three kilometres and three miles an hour is a fair amount of wiggle room, but that is my thinking speed.  I can still pay attention to things around me, I can get in the zone, I can happily breathe, I could talk if someone is walking beside me.

Of course, it probably isn’t making me all that fitter very quickly.  But enjoying it is more important just now.  Or so I tell myself.


3 thoughts on “Thinking at Three Miles an Hour

  1. That’s fascinating! I don’t go the gym, but I love walking for uninterrupted thinking time, and it never occurred to me that you might get the same effect on a treadmill. I suppose if you increase your speed gradually you will be able to think and still get a workout of some sort. At least that sounds plausible. And very appealing when it’s so cold out that I don’t want to get out from under my blanket on the couch, much less go for a long walk!


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