The Eleatic philosopher Zeno, writing almost 2500 years ago, famously propounded several paradoxes purportedly proving that various conceptions of the physical universe were false. The most famous of these involves the Greek hero Achilles and a tortoise, stating that if the tortoise started ahead of Achilles in a race, the fleet-footed Achaean warrior could never catch the plodding turtle. Zeno also claimed to prove that a moving arrow is actually at rest. His main purpose was to defend the philosophy of the “one” of his great teacher, Parmenides, as against the “many” of competing philosophies such as those of Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and Democritus. Parmenides wished to demonstrate that reality is a unity, and that the world as interpreted by the senses is unreal. Zeno’s paradoxes have stumped many thinkers over the ensuing millennia. The main flaw in his brilliant puzzles is that he blurred the distinction between “discrete” and “continuous” phenomena. We can put the solutions to Zeno’s paradoxes to work in our understanding of the best method by which to approach our philosophy of exercise.
Many of us prevent ourselves from beginning an exercise program by focusing on the daunting perspective of the necessity of doing exercise for one’s entire life. We allow the enormity of the ongoing, continuous nature of such an enterprise to deflate our resolve. The result of this flawed point of view is that we stop ourselves before we can even get started. But if we radically modify our interpretation of the “continuous” nature of the work to be done and instead approach our exercise activities from the “discrete” standpoint, we would then be able to take each exercise session on its own merits. Whole and complete in itself, today’s exercise only needs to be done today. Tomorrow’s exercise, which when it arrives is now “today’s” exercise, is done similarly. Do today’s work today. Over time, the discrete method results in a continuum of results. We accomplish our long-term goals step-by-step, giving our full attention, focus, and concentration to what needs to be done right now, today.1,2
Once we become willing to take on this deeper understanding of the nature of the process of exercise, the next step is to investigate and choose our preferred types of exercise activities. The good news is that, other than making sure we’re doing both cardiovascular and strength training exercises, the specific type of exercise doesn’t matter. As long as we’re doing some form of cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis, whether we run, walk, swim, bike, or cross-country ski is up to us. Similarly, as long as we’re doing some form of strength training on a regular basis, whether we use kettle bells, medicine balls, or a combination of free weights and stationary equipment is our choice. The key, overall, is to avoid Zeno’s critical error, and be well aware of the distinction between “discrete” and “continuous” events. This empowering distinction will be of value, not only in terms of exercise, but in all aspects of life.3
1Innes KE, Selfe TK: Yoga for Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review of Controlled Trials. J Diabetes Res 2016;2016:6979370. doi: 10.1155/2016/6979370. Epub 2015 Dec 14.
2Skórkowska-Telichowska K, et al: Nordic walking in the second half of life. Aging Clin Exp Res 2016 Jan 23. [Epub ahead of print]
3Haider T, et al: Yoga as an Alternative and Complementary Therapy for Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med 2016 Jan 19. pii: 2156587215627390. [Epub ahead of print]