“Do nothing, and keep moving.”

That may sound like confusing and contradictory advice. But it’s something a few friends and I came up with recently, and I think if we all heeded it, we’d be healthier, happier, and in better shape mentally and physically. As individuals and as a society.

The discussion started because one of the members of our group is a high school teacher who is retiring at the end of this school year, and we were asking about her plans for the summer and beyond. She told us that people had already given her plenty of suggestions for what to do with all that free time she’s going to have.

“Why do I have to do anything?” she said. “My plans for a while are to do nothing.”

I brought up an old Spanish proverb I read long ago, which says, “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward.” That sounds awfully lazy at first glance, but it’s actually a pretty good commentary on the importance of proper rest and downtime – which is a foreign concept to many of us today. We run ourselves ragged trying to get more and more done, and we race against the clock in order to try getting everything done more and more quickly. We try to stuff more action and activity into every day than any 24-hour period was ever meant to hold, and as a result we miss out on most of it. On top of that, we’re damaging our health and well-being in the process.

So there’s a lot to be said for doing nothing.

But even “doing nothing” means different things to different people. My teacher friend said that for her, doing nothing means spending a lot of time reading, walking, and filling her days with other activities that she enjoys doing. The difference is whether something is a “have to” or a “want to.” Or the difference between work and play.

We got on the subject of exercise then, and she mentioned that the best advice of all that she has received – and which she has every intention of following – is to keep moving. Too many people retire and go into couch potato mode, becoming completely sedentary. Of course, many of them were pretty sedentary to begin with, even before retiring. So for some people, it’s not a big shift.

But a lack of physical activity brings on more than the obesity that’s a hallmark of our society today. Back pain, joint pain, and a whole host of other aches and ills can start showing up – or getting more severe – in people who aren’t getting enough exercise.

My friend has no intention of falling into that category. She’s already pretty active and plans to keep it up – ramping it up even more, in fact, now that she’s going to have some extra time available to her each day.

So that’s how we came up with the mantra, “Do nothing, and keep moving.” Take some time whenever you can to relax and unwind. Schedule downtime into your day – which I know is easier said than done, but should be said and done anyway. And schedule exercise into your day as well. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A walk around the neighborhood is enough to help you start programming exercise into your day, and to get the habit going. From there you can build up to any level and type of exercise you wish to pursue. There are different benefits to different types of exercise, but the bottom line is that it’s all good, as long as you keep moving.

Feel free to adopt our new slogan as your own, if you care to. You don’t have to wait until you retire from your job. In fact, if you’re so busy that you can’t even imagine taking time to slow down, or squeezing in time to exercise, that’s probably a sign of how badly you need to do both. So aim for taking a few minutes every day, or a few hours whenever you can, and do nothing – whatever your definition of that may be.

And remember to keep moving.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on May 17, 2012.
© Betty Liedtke, 2012