I often wonder why academics don't enjoy physical exercise more than they do. I of course don't buy into the silly stereotypes about pigeon-toed, pencil-necked, near-sighted geeks. My casual observations suggest to me that academics pursue physical fitness with about the same ardor, or lack thereof, of the average white-collar worker. I mean to ask why academics, by dint of the importance they place on mental exercise, don't enjoy physical exercise a good deal more than the average white-collar workers.
I guess I qualify as a fitness buff. I usually work out six days a week, taking the seventh day off to fast. I do aerobic and anaerobic exercises on alternate days, usually biking or running for the former and lifting weights or surfing for the latter. Far from some sort of recent fad, I've been following roughly this same routine for over twenty years.
Why have I made a habit of challenging my body? I won't detail the usual, obvious, and yet quite valid reasons. Instead, I'll focus on the one most relevant to the query at hand: I like physical exercise because I like to think.
In academia, my thoughts make their marks on the world only delicately and indirectly, through spoken or written words. I like working out because I can see my brainpower impact the world forcefully and directly. Today, for instance, I thought, "I'm going to set a new personal record: twenty-five pull-ups!" To my immense gratification, I made that thought a reality.
Of course, I do not always manage to get my body to follow my thoughts. (I find in that a corrective reminder, one that an academic like me often needs, about the vast gulf between theory and reality. But I'm supposed to be wondering why academics don't find more charms in physical exercise—not why they could benefit from it.) That gives me yet more mental exercise, however, as I plan out long-term strategies for reaching my goals. While ordering my flesh around proves gratifying, I enjoy designing my flesh even more.
Why don't more academics share my views? I don't think they lack the time to exercise. To the contrary, academics have more free time than most white-collar workers. Furthermore, most academics have ready access to recreational facilities through the educational institutions where they work. Perhaps academics tend to see mental and physical exercise as mutually exclusive for cultural reasons, thinking back on the "jock v. brain" divisions so common in high school cultures. If so, academics fail to use their bodies because they fail to use their heads.