health and fitness
Stronger, Fitter, and Healthier
Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.
Our bodies are merely the vessels that contain us (our essence, our souls, our minds, our consciousness, etc.), our mode of transportation, and at its core, just an elaborate means of maintaining our DNA and facilitating its transfer to the next generation. But without it, we cease to exist.
But our bodies are more than just vessels, they are a part of our being - there is a mind-body connection that cannot be understated. Our musculoskeletal system responds to the brain’s commands for movement, but conversely, our movements trigger neurochemical responses in the brain as well.
How we maintain our bodies affects not just our ability to do the things we desire to do, but our mood (our mental and emotional state), our current health, and our future wellness (our lifespan). This maintenance not only requires beneficial inputs such as proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep. It requires an adversarial component - stress.
Humans Need Stress
One of the most unique features of our body's repair system, specifically the musculoskeletal system, is that when its tissues are damaged, they will not only be repaired, but in most cases improved. When we train to fatigue, we are actually damaging our muscles at the cellular level (the tissue level if you have overdone it), but in response, the body not only repairs the damaged fibers, but adds more so that the next time it can handle the damage-inducing event properly. The damage makes us stronger.
For our ancient ancestors our body’s damage repair system meant life or death. If we were injured beyond repair out on the hunt, we would not be able to feed ourselves as well as our families. Unfortunately, the damage repair system is not perfect, and the cumulative effect of the injuries incurred would eventually leave the patriarch of the family unable to hunt and protect. The theory is that this lack of ability, this sedentarism, was a signal to the system that it had transitioned from a providing asset to a liability, a drain on the limited resources available to the tribe. However harsh, this was crucial for the survival of the species.
A remnant of our evolution from the trees, to the Savanna, to the modern lives we live today is that we are either growing or we are dying. We are either becoming stronger or we are becoming frail, and as we get older, this becomes more and more certain.
It’s hard to imagine a day of physical inactivity for our ancient ancestors, and yet for many of us, that is how we spend most if not all of our days. Even when we are working, it could be in a cube, or in a booth, or maybe a vehicle. While we spend all of our living moments in vessels that were built for movement, we spend most of those moments not moving. This inactivity is playing a huge part in our overall physical decline as a species, at least in much of the developed world. Our bodies must be in a state of conflict.
To compound the toll our bodies are taking from a lack of activity, add in the complete inversion of the nutrients we are consuming. Back on the Savanna, one of the most difficult nutrients to come by was the simple carb (i.e. sugar, white flour, etc.). Sugar is like rocket fuel, so when our bodies detected the rare ingestion of it, it did everything it could to not let it go to waste. We evolved to store this valuable fuel source as efficiently as possible in the form of fat.
When we came down out of the trees we quickly evolved from herbivores to omnivores. While retaining the ability to extract valuable nutrients from leafy veg and fruits, we evolved to get even more nutrition from nutrient dense sources such as meat and nuts. Hence the hunting-gathering part. And when we discovered we could cook those sources, we made our digestion more efficient, freeing up vast amounts of energy for other processes like abstract thinking (some more abstract than others).
“Successful people make a habit of doing the things that unsuccessful people won’t do.”
But as some famous philosopher once said, too much of something good always becomes its opposite. So much more so if that something is something we don’t need in the first place.
So, if we eat more like our ancestors (i.e. nuts, berries, meats, fruits and veg, and healthy fats), and we exercise like they did (long runs like the hunters on the Kalahari), that should be enough. Why should we perform high intensity or resistance training? Surely they didn’t lift weights back then. And that’s the tricky part, literally. We have to do some trickery on our bodies.
Most likely, our ancestors, whether on the plains of the Savanna, or the mountains of Europe, or the jungles of Southeast Asia, were not bulked up muscular men and women. But they didn’t live to be ninety or one hundred. They didn’t need to, they weren’t designed to, and they weren’t supposed to, and neither are we. But what if there is a trigger that either tells the body or forces the body to throw in the towel and call it a life. That trigger could very well be frailty.
If not used properly, by a certain age, our bodies become frail. Every system, every feedback loop within us gets its cues from our endocrine system (our hormones). When we are putting our muscles and bones under stress, we are giving off signals that tell our body to produce more of certain hormones. It is the levels of these hormones that tell our bodies what we are up to. Are we active, are we strong, are we still hunting water buffalo, are we out gathering nuts and berries, or are we lying vertically in our tent, teepee, or cave.
One of these scenarios tells our body that we are a productive member of the tribe, and one tells it that we are long past our productive prime and ready for the junk heap. Our body will not invest energy in something that is not producing returns that benefit the passing on of our genes. By training hard, and keeping those hormone levels as close to those of our reproducing peers, we can trick our bodies into delaying our eventual physical decline for a few more years, or maybe decades.
Ultimately, if the lifestyle you desire doesn’t not require you to be healthy and fit, then you will struggle to convince yourself to do the everyday things necessary to live that lifestyle. Being healthy and fit cannot just be what we do to live a healthy and fit lifestyle, it must be the lifestyle.
We were built to be hunter-gatherers. We evolved to grow, to reproduce, to raise our offspring, and when they were old enough to take over the process, we were designed to die. For our ancient ancestors, this was enough. They were too beaten and battered to live much longer anyway. But today, our situation has evolved rapidly. We don’t need to face off with a water buffalo or a wooly mammoth. We don’t need to venture far and wide for nuts and berries. All of that stuff is just down the street and our means to acquire it is via a day at the office or on the sales floor. We should be living for a couple hundred years and yet we seem to have hit a ceiling, and worse, we are finding ways to die just as young as ever before.
But we can have the best of both worlds. We can live in the modern society we do today while recreating the physical environment of our ancestors. We have the tools available to simulate the physical stress of the hunt for food, the need for shelter, and the means to protect it, all within a few minutes of home (or even in the home). We can find the same nutrients that they had to find and still have so much time left over to focus on satisfying our higher needs.
Whether the environment is urban, suburban, rural, or best of all wilderness. We can live like our ancestors, but much longer and much safer.
Final Key Ideas:
Exercise can be something that we can appreciate and maybe even enjoy, but beneficial exercise is also work and should feel like it.
Make exercise a habit.
Baby steps - start small with the goal of constantly and steadily improving.
Most importantly, make exercise (and your overall health) your top priority, for the day, the month, and for your lifetime.
We Need Sleep (Coming soon).
We Are Built to Be Active (Coming soon).