According to research, sitting down is literally killing us. It puts us at risk for cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and even some cancers. According to best-selling author Tom Rath of Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements and the upcoming Eat, Move, Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes, "sitting is the most underrated health threat of modern times." And desk jobs cannot take all the blame. After hours and on weekends, most people spend their free time sitting in front of a TV or computer.
According to fitness experts, spinning is a great way to increase physical fitness. A typical 45-minute class is a sweat-drenching, calorie-burning, body-toning, joint-sparing, efficient workout. Spinning has become increasingly popular over the past few years and chances are it's not a passing fad.
Spinning devotees describe it as an obsession. In a recent Vanity Fair article, talk show host Kelly Ripa described herself as "super-culty about it." The physical benefits are undeniable but what it does for the mind is why people seem to get hooked. As one spinning fan said, "As good as it is for my ass, it's better for my head. It's mental floss."
Spinning class is the only time in the day when crazy busy people who are used to doing 10 things at once give their minds a break. The focus is on one thing -- spinning. Cell phones aren't allowed in classes. Studies show that most people cannot leave their mobile devices alone for six minutes without checking it but spinning enthusiasts willingly give it up for those sacrosanct 45 minutes. The physical demands of spinning combined with the mental concentration, inspiring teachers, fellow spinners and great music create what many spinners describe as an almost sacred experience.
I would argue that this optimal experience is so appealing because it induces what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of flow. Flow happens when action and awareness merge. It's when we employ all the relevant skills that are necessary to cope with a given challenges in a situation and when our attention is completely absorbed by the activity. It's about being in the moment and the reward is the experience itself. As a dancer describes in Csikszentmihalyi's book, "Your concentration is very complete. Your mind isn't wandering, you are not thinking of something else; you are totally involved in what you are doing... "
In other words, flow is the opposite of feeling bored, disconnected or meaningless -- all too common afflictions of modern life. Experts believe there is a direct relationship between flow experiences and well-being. Moreover, they argue that the lack of flow may be linked to depression and anxiety.
As cell phones ping and emails ding, moments of focused attention are few and far between so it is up to us to actively seek flow experiences. Spinning may be one way to make flow happen. But keep in mind that 45 minutes of intense even flow-inducing exercise may not be enough to offset the toll of sitting down the rest of the day. Instead, consider ways to build activity and flow into your daily routine. My suggestion: ride a bike to get around. Not only is it better for the environment, it's better for your head and your heart. Plus, being outdoors is an added benefit.
Thankfully, bicycle makers now recognize that biking isn't only for "mamils" -- middle-aged men in latex as described by the Wall Street Journal. Bicycle entrepreneur Lorenzo Martone created a line of beautiful cruising bikes that are ideal for getting around town and bike sharing programs are increasingly popular in cities. If you think you are too busy or too stressed, a bike ride may be just what the doctor ordered.
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