Friday, April 18, 2014

Does Running Make You Smarter?

I keep reading things about how running makes you smarter and protects your brain from going to complete mush as you get older. And I don't disagree with that being true or that being a great thing. I love the idea that this habit is good for me mentally as well as physically. In my lifelong plan to become the Batman, I'm really going to need my brain and body in tip-top shape.

I also technically need no parents, but I'm willing to let that requirement slide. You're welcome, mom and dad. 
What I do take issue with is the purpose of articles discussing how running makes you smarter. Here's a question: who are those articles for?

First off, I don't think they provide real motivation for non-runners to become runners. I know facts and figures like that didn't help me at the beginning. Telling someone that they will be smarter in twenty years for something they're doing today does not make today any easier. You have to have a real, tangible, and pretty immediate benefit if you want to make running a habit on a day-to-day basis.

Those big mental benefits are usually long term, so they're like the finish line in the distance. You can't worry about that; you have to watch the path right in front of you and focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Expect nothing from your runs other than that you ran today, and let that be your carrot on a stick. Expect anything else, and you're inviting disappointment.

Actually, you can also expect foot pain. There's going to be some foot pain.
Who else could these articles be aimed at? Current runners, I guess. I bet they're mostly who would be interested in running research, right?

Shut up, Ted.
So why would we be interested in them? I know I must be getting something out of them, since I've featured such articles twice in my weekly roundup.

The more I consider it (with my big, running-powered brain), the more I believe that it's a form of indulgence and self-congratulation. None of us established running as a part of our lives because we wanted to be smarter currently or when we're older. Reading about unexpected mental benefits gained as a side-affect of our physical exercise is like getting two bags of chips from a vending machine when you only paid for one. I'm happy, but I only wanted the one bag. What, am I supposed to eat two bags of chips now?

Pictured: the usual level of difficulty I have eating chips.
Okay, lost that metaphor. But the self-indulgence isn't quite what bothers me, actually. You know what? It's a language issue.

Running isn't about being given things for free. You see an article titled, "Running Makes You Smarter," and you might think running just gave you a Christmas bonus of a shiny, new health benefit. That isn't true to the spirit of the sport. We dig deep for every step, mile, and marathon.

Running doesn't "give" or "make" anything into anything else; running is scraping a block of marble into a work of art with a paperclip, bit by bit, step by step. If you are smarter or faster or more motivated or better organized, it is not because running gave it to you, it is because you are making yourself into a work of art.

So to answer my title: no. You do it yourself.

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