One of the things I crave about running is opportunity to touch something real, even if its simply with my feet. If you’re like me, you could spend a surprising amount of your work-a-day life never really coming in contact with the natural world. It’s a sterile place we first-world-ers live in, and running gives me an excuse to plug in to a tactile part of my brain that needs to connect to the planet. Its pretty basic, this touch, but its the repetition and the renewal it brings that helps to calm the frenzy of a life surrounded by plastic stuff and digital everything.
I stumbled across this realization partly, I think, because I’ve been reading Last Child in the Woods recently and its fascinating how big an effect even minimal exposure to the natural world has on developing brains, as well as mature ones. Its major, if there was any question.
Stare at a photo of a landscape, take a short walk, even cursory contact with the greenness of outside yields effects that light up the brain like fireworks. The brain’s reaction to nature is immense and stunning in ways that continue to baffle scientists. The little we do know shows pretty remarkable evidence that nature’s ever-larger absence from our day-to-day existence has adverse consequences for the healthy development and maintenance of our big noggins. There’s also pretty conclusive studies to suggest the increase in hyperactivity and attention disorders among our kids maybe be directly linked to “nature-deficit disorder.” Pretty weird to think about when you consider we may have evolved our way into new mental disorders. In addition to building new brain cells, if you’re an outdoor runner, its pretty clear you’re getting an extra benefit for your brain in terms of your nature-exposure quotient.
I also find it curious that at the same time my physical self is focused on this tactile presence in running, there is something so much bigger going on that can’t be touched at all. The calm, the quiet that comes through the run, the sensation completely devoid of physical contact but still so very evident. Its got me wondering, are they two sides of the same coin?