For the past twenty years or so, I’ve run on a treadmill, for 45 minutes straight, at least three to four days a week. I started doing it shortly after I turned 35 to avoid a heart attack, figuring that if I took care of the single most important muscle in my body, it would take care of me. Depending on my mood (and speed), I’ll cover anywhere from three to four miles a day. And it’s worked so far-no heart attacks yet. Knock wood.
But believe me, I have no love whatsoever for running – on a treadmill or anywhere for that matter. Your heart is pounding, you’re breathing heavy, you’re sweating profusely – it’s like having sex minus all the pleasure. Even with the TV screen that’s attached to every treadmill in any self-respecting modern gym, it’s still the most boring activity on earth. But I can’t run on the street, having learned years ago that my shins splinter from repeated impact on a hard surface. So to get the aerobic benefits of running, I’m stuck with the treadmill.
Lately, however, I’ve come to look at it in a different light. If you think about it, the treadmill is the ultimate time machine. Use it regularly, and you’ll probably live longer (Although there’s no guarantee. Remember Jim Fixx, one of the early popular exercise gurus, who dropped dead of a heart attack at age 52 while jogging?) But whether you live longer or not, it definitely feels that way. Time literally slows down when you step on the treadmill. The same thing happens when you settle into the dentist chair, and he or she revs up the drill – smiling and bearing down for that first chiggering bite into the enamel.
Any other half hour of your life could pass with you hardly noticing, which probably explains why: you’re not paying attention most of the time, so time flies by. But when you’re on the treadmill, running to keep up with the machine, you have to concentrate on every step, every second, or you’ll fall flat on your face. It’s a matter of focus – time seems to pass more slowly because you’re acutely aware of each moment as it ripens from the present into the past.
It’s like the old joke about why married men live longer. They don’t – it just feels that way. Actually, some say married men live longer because they’re hanging on, waiting for their wives to die, so they can enjoy being single again. The treadmill is the same thing – you hang on, waiting for the seconds and minutes and miles to tick by so you can stop, and be normal again.
If only there were a way to live that way all the time. After all, if focusing on the unpleasantness of jogging balloons each minute into a mini eternity, why couldn’t focusing on the joy in other fun stuff we do have a similar effect and make life that much more enjoyable? Unfortunately, things don’t seem to work out that way. We seem to be wired to have time trickle by slower than molasses in January, when life is painful or hard. But when things are fun, the hours scatter, and disappear like dandelion seeds in a summer breeze.
I think I’ll get up tomorrow, and hit the treadmill, and then try to hang on to that focus for the rest of the day. If you see me walking around with a big smile on my face for no apparent reason, you’ll know why.