The ancient Greeks & Romans were fairly unanimous in understanding that body health & mental health were inseparable. The idea slipped during the middle ages, when some believed in the “mortification of the flesh.” Our ideas in modern America are mixed. Popular culture features the fictional conflicts between nerds/geeks and jocks. According to the formula, the geeks are uncoordinated and physically weak, but hard working and smart. The jocks are the opposite. Like lots of high school concepts, this one is based on a simplified version of brains v brawn and narrow definitions of health and intelligence.
The Greeks were right. Healthy bodies and healthy minds go together, at least in a statistical sense, i.e. in general but not always. I know that somebody will throw up the example of Stephen Hawkins, but he is an exception in almost every way. The brain is part of the body. When the body functions poorly, the brain is affected. You just cannot think as clearly if your body is giving you trouble. Think about the last time you had a bad toothache. Did you think about lots of other things when it was acting up?
It is hard to determine the causality in mind-body health. Healthy people can devote more energy to keeping their mind alert and intelligent people understand better the need and methods for staying healthy. We find a correlation between health and success, with obesity and poor health more common among the poor. It some ways it violates our sense of fairness. We like to think there is some kind of compensation, so the guy with the weak body gets the compensation of being smarter. It just doesn’t seem to work like that.
I go to Gold’s Gym three times a week and I am under no illusions that all those guys built like gorillas are rocket scientists. On the other hand, the people who work out during their lunch hours, before or after work seem a cut above the ones who don’t.
“Talk of the Nation – Science Friday” reported studies that show that moderate exercise, like walking 40 minutes three times a week actually increase the size of your brain. They also discussed “brain exercises” like doing crossword puzzles. These things make you better at crossword puzzles, but don’t do much in general. Physical exercise, on the other hand, improves the raw material of brain health and so provides across the board benefits.
I know this is not the same thing, but I find that I think more clearly when I am walking. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it is just better to be in motion. I can think about things when I am walking. I suppose if I was just to sit still and try the same thing my mind would wander or I might just fall asleep.
Another thing the ancient Greeks used to say was “nothing too much” or “everything in moderation.” You don’t have to be a triathlete to have a healthy mind and body, but it would be a good idea to be able to walk around the block w/o your body complaining. It helps keep the mind clear.
The picture up top shows the dumbing down of our society. How dumb do you have to be to require a warning on your computer keyboard? IMO, one of the big challenges to our society is that we allow fewer and fewer responsible decisions.