Staying Sane - by Maureen Gaffney
It’s dark when I get up. It’s dark when I’m done working. If it’s not cold and rainy, there’s the fact that it’s not cold and rainy to worry about—fire danger in January? Good grief. I could get some pals, go to that nice new restaurant….oh, right, there’s a global pandemic—that restaurant is boarded up. Movie? Nope. Lecture? Poetry reading? No, and no. Gray, creeping tendrils of despondency start to move around and through my system, my blood slowly being replaced by sludge.
I can however, swing my leg over the saddle of my road bike for a quick lunch spin. I can head out for a walk, a run (okay, that’s a lie—I only run when chased). Hard as it is to motivate for anything aside from Netflix, too much Pinot, and bed, with the very first revolution of the crank I feel it. An involuntary deep breath, an involuntary release of tension. The world in front of my handlebars is already brighter. It is always thus.
The links between exercise and mental health and are well known, studied, understood. And yet, I’m always a little astounded at the visceral truth of this. I mean, I believe in science, but I can’t feel photosynthesis or a black hole. I can feel the truth of the link between mental health and exercise, and immediately no less.
“Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may make a difference. It may take less time exercising to improve your mood when you do more-vigorous activities, such as running or bicycling.”
And there are the benefits to one’s physical health that come along for the ride: lower blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes, even arthritis. And let’s face it, the loss of even 4-6 pounds makes you feel better about yourself even if that wasn’t the main goal. Pretty soon the riding/walking (ugh, running…) make you feel so much better you want to ride/walk/run even more, then you lose a few more pounds, then a positive feedback loop becomes established. The only downside is that now you are so happy and so annoying you need a whole new set of friends.
Given where this piece is appearing, you knew it wouldn’t be too long before the connection to the Napa Valley Vine Trail was made. That a trail reserved for walking and cycling parallels the main route through the Valley—in both existing and soon-to-be-existing segments—means that easy access to mental and physical health benefits is nearby, just waiting to send you along a path of improved health. In fact, I’m so inspired I might just go for a run.