Somewhere in the middle of the lockdown, not running between contact center agents anymore, I became a little depressed and did not feel like doing much. I could almost feel my muscles deteriorating as I sat around consuming Youtube content all day until I realized that I am slowly slipping into a vortex of depression.
I am not talking full-blown depression, more of a growing lack of interest in doing anything, we can rather call it an increase in laziness and choosing to consume rather than create.
The lockdown restrictions were eased and we were allowed to exercise during certain hours of the day. I took advantage of that and started walking about 4km per day, just to get out of the house for a bit initially. I then realized that my walking pace was becoming faster and that I was almost walking at the same pace as when I served in the Air Force.
Knowing that I should not stress my body too much too quickly, I slowly started challenging myself, pushing a little harder every day to beat my previous time. I kept at it for about a month until I decided to give running a try, especially since I quit smoking a few months earlier and I could not remember what it felt like to run with clear lungs.
I remember when the fitness test came up, back in the Air Force, I would feel like I was about to die for the whole 2.4km. I hated it. I used to say that I am only supposed to run when there is trouble. It’s not something I saw as fun. But because I enjoyed the walking and I was curious to experience running as a non-smoker, I gave it a shot.
Never thought I would say this, but from that day I have been running 4km, 6 days a week and loving every kilometer of it. I have to mention that as with the walking, I started off slowly, increasing my pace steadily every day. It is so easy to injure yourself by overdoing exercise especially if you aren’t used to any, and you don’t want that, especially if you are just starting out.
Except for the obvious part of physically feeling good and healthy as my fitness levels increased, I started feeling much better mentally. I felt like doing things again, I started learning Python and building little projects. I started writing every day, journalling all these new ideas I started having. I felt alive again, in the mood to create cool stuff.
At the time though I did not pay much attention to the fact that exercise increased my mental state and cognitive abilities. Until this week, when it started raining nonstop for a few days, the perfect excuse to skip a run, it became pretty clear. If I do not run, I do not perform as I usually do.
Today marks day 3 of skipping my regular morning exercise session and I haven’t had such a bad day since I started walking a few months back. I sat in front of my computer the whole day and I can not show one single piece of work that I finished or made significant progress with.
I can't say that I did not try, or that I procrastinated, my mind simply stopped producing new ideas. It was like whatever I did was useless and I did not approve of anything that I produced. I sat in front of this very article, trying to write anything that made the slightest sense but nothing worked.
Rain pouring outside, the thought struck me: The only thing that is different than other days except for the rain is that I haven't exercised for three days.
Reading up a bit, it suddenly became clear to me that physical exercise is very important towards healthy brain function. Especially for people that sit in front of their computer screens the whole day, even more so for people that need to use their brains a lot to solve complex problems or demand creative content from them.
There are a lot of scientific explanations for this but in short, moderate exercise of at least 30min per day leads to improved concentration, better memory, extended mental stamina, boosted creativity, better learning capabilities, and lower stress. Moderate exercise means that your heart is pumping a little more than normal, getting more oxygen to the brain which is the very fuel it needs to perform at optimal levels.
From personal experience, I can also say that sitting in a chair only getting up to eat or go to the loo for three days straight inhibits your ability to produce quality work.
So remember, if your code or article just doesn't seem to work out and you feel like you don't have any energy to produce anything of value, go for a run, or a walk at least. Then go back and give it another shot, you will be amazed at what a little exercise can do for your creative output.