The dumb jock, the unathletic geek: we usually assume that being good at sports and being smart are mutually exclusive. Why is this? Is it because we think of the highly intelligent hiding in their ivory towers, descending rarely to mix among us mortals (and get a breath of fresh air)? Do we think that those who enjoy physical pursuits don't have to use their minds--or don't have the inclination to do so?
This connection is one that I've been thinking about for a while. About three years ago, I started running, playing Ultimate Frisbee, and enjoying all sorts of sports. Recently, I've been taking swimming lessons. I enjoy physical activity. I also enjoy reading, writing, and thinking.
I'm planning to be an academic, something which (shockingly) doesn't require physical abilities. Part of me occasionally longs to find a occupation where I'd use both my body and my mind.
The connection between our physical and mental abilities is subtler than one might think. My mind doesn't shut down when I start running: no, instead it becomes more active. My mind is always more alert (and my body more energetic) when I'm working out regularly. When my body is healthy, my mind is sharper.
So why does our culture persist with the separation of mind and body? I think part of it is that we do like simple dualities--they make life easier. And I do admit that I know some really dumb people who are great athletes and some really smart individuals who suck at anything athletic. But I also know a lot more people who are both successful athletes (or have physical abilities) and intelligent, capable individuals.
Personally, I'm cultivating a life of the mind and greater physical abilities. I think that understanding the connection is deeply important to my own success and well-being.