Why Physical Activity is Important for Learning

I spent the weekend doing yard work. In fact, I was disappointed that it was raining last weekend because I wouldn’t be able to use the brand-new rake I had just purchased. Over the past two morning, I raked up all of the leaves, dead twigs (oh, the dead twigs!), and pine needles as I could. I am clearly new at this, as I didn’t think to check to see if we had any large garbage bags to put them in. Once our two garbage cans were full, I then spent the rest of the time re-organizing the piles so that the grass underneath them wouldn’t die, leaving brown patches all over our lawn. I tried watering our lawn using the kids’ fun sprinkler, with strange results.

I have never been one for house work, yard work, do-it-yourself projects, or anything domestic, stereotypically male or female oriented.  I was a bit of a space-cadet, as it was referred to, and I would much rather spend my childhood afternoons reading, making up elaborate fantasies, or coloring. As I got older, it became a function of swimming 30+ hours a week on top of school; when the weekend rolled around, I just wanted to sleep and do nothing, or maybe hang out with my friends who I never really got to see during the week. Most of my family on the other hand…

Just to give you an idea, our family (specifically, my grandfather and his brothers) owned a cottage up at a lake, and we would often spend our weekends there in the summer. My idea of a great weekend at The Lake (as we called it) involved reading the six or seven books I had brought along with me, mixed in with some quick dips in the lake. My grandfather, mother, and brother, on the other hand, worked the entire weekend. Granddad always had some sort of project that needed to be completed around the cabin (which, to his credit, he had built himself with his brothers’ help). It drove him absolutely mad that I would just sit there and read. They tried to force me to help, but would quickly dismiss me when my gross incompetence became obvious. 
But there have always been a few things around the house that I didn’t mind doing: cleaning the bathroom, painting, and scraping ice from the driveway. For one, I was able to do the jobs alone and at my own pace. One of the things that I always hated was my mother or someone else hovering over me in order to either rush me or tell me how I could be doing it better. It was also a rather tedious activity that involved some physical exertion. There was a clear goal, and I could just tell everyone to go away, leave me alone, and it will get done. That often stood in stark contrast to the rest of my life, where interference, distraction, and a feeling of not accomplishing anything dominated. It was comforting and satisfying, both physically and mentally, to get the task done; a task that I completed with my own two hands.
All of this to say that it’s really weird that I enjoyed doing the yard work today (and by extension, enjoyed hiking last Friday). But I think it’s just my body’s way of trying to balance out everything that’s going on in my mind. It used to be swimming that helped me maintain some sort of balance, but now I am left with little time to make it to the pool. It may also be because we now own our home, and I want to take pride in this little piece of land that is ours (it’s a double-lot). Say what you will about class issues, but I grew up in the suburbs with a mom would loved to garden, and while I might now have a green thumb, I am not going to be that neighbor with the shitty lawn. 
My New Year’s resolution this year was “stability.” Part of that is trying to achieve some sort of balance for myself so that mentally, I remain stable, too. I’ve been working out more, with friends, to take care of my body, as well as my mind. The Huffington Post recently had a piece begging legislatures and school boards to protect sports from budget cuts. I would have to agree. If one of the things we hope to teach our children is resiliency, then teaching them how physical and mental health go together is important. But it doesn’t have to be just about sports; one lesson that my grandfather left for me to learn on my own is that there is a great feeling of pride and accomplishment when you’ve put your own sweat into a project. And that it can ultimately be relaxing. 
It’s a lesson that I am continually learning and one I want to model for my kids, even if they don’t hear it until much, much later.