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An author colleague posted recently on Facebook that she’d been for a walk and it had helped her to sort through her ideas for a new novel. I’m a great believer in walking as a way to stimulate thought and many of my days begin with an hour of walking through the park and by the river with my dog. Sometimes this helps me work out a problem or an issue; sometimes it just helps to clear my mind so that I can do something productive when I get home.

However, I have discovered that different types of exercise do different things to my mind. Winter is approaching and the days are getting shorter so I’ve just re-joined the gym, hoping to keep reasonably fit on the days when I can’t get out on the hills.

The gym that I’ve joined is just around the corner from my house – about eight minutes on foot, five if I get my bike out and cycle and about two if it’s piddling down and I drive. It’s fairly modern and well equipped with a twenty metre pool as well as the usual gym equipment. When I was running outdoors last year I found it much like walking – I was able to think as well as pay attention to my surroundings. Running on a treadmill is very different. I’ve tried listening to music – my own and the background music that they play a little too loudly – but I find I get bored and watch the seconds tick slowly by. I can’t think about anything other than what I’m doing. So I watch television. The running machines, bikes and cross trainers all have TV screens which allow the user to select whatever they want to watch. One day I chose the cricket highlights and on Sunday I watched ‘Escape to the Country’. The time seems to pass much more quickly than when I just listen to music. But I can’t think.

Swimming is similar. I’ve always loved to swim; I enjoy being surrounded and supported by water but it isn’t an exercise that allows my mind to wander. I find that I’m very aware of my own movements, of the other swimmers, of the sound and feel of the water and I count the lengths that I’ve completed. That’s not a bad thing though. A few years ago I tried some mindfulness meditation and I realised that swimming, for me, is a form of mindfulness. I am in the moment and really can’t think about anything else.

I’ve always understood that exercise is good for my mental health as well as my physical health but it seems to work differently depending on what I do and where I am. Now all I need is an eight-hour fell walk to allow my mind to wander for long enough to be able to plot the next few chapters of my current book. I’d better take a torch!

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