Life expectancy is the highest it’s ever been in human history but rates of chronic disease and mental illness are skyrocketing. 1 in 3 Canadians now report having a chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension, and in any given year 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness; by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 will have or have had mental illness. That is absolutely terrible. We live longer, but our lives suck…
According to a new wave of expert exercise physiologists, including Daniel Liebermann, PhD, who interestingly, runs barefoot on the daily but has tenure while teaching at Harvard, diseases and discomfort arise because our environment and our behaviours do not match our biological makeup. ”Diseases of excess” such as obesity and hypertension arise because we are hardwired to be hunter-gatherers, yet we lazily stuff ourselves with processed, pre-packaged junk. “Diseases of disuse” such as anxiety or type 2 diabetes occur because we are designed to move and stress our bodies constantly, yet we prefer to Netflix and chill. “Diseases of novelty” such as low back pain or nearsightedness arise because we contort ourselves in novel ways to be as un-human as possible.
Humans, or homo sapiens, have been around for 3 to 5 (depending on which evolutionary biologist you talk to) million years. But agriculture dates back only 10 000 years. Even more recent, industrialization and the advent of computers, junk food, and the “9 to 5” dates back only a couple hundred years. A couple hundred years is a blink of an eye in human history. Psychologically and physiologically we must remember that we are still animals. And while we are supposed to be outside hunting, gathering, and engaging in meaningful interactions with members of our own species, we are put in cages. Modern, social cages that take the form of office jobs and the need to keep up with the Jones’. We are becoming frail, isolated, depressed, and anxious because of it.
While modern medicine and cultural innovation has been a godsend in many ways (for example, vaccinations, or hip hop), it has created a disconnect between what we think we are, and who we actually are deep down in our DNA. When was the last time you swam in a lake? When was the last time you woke up to the sunrise? When was the last time you picked fruit from a tree and ate it? These are examples of inherently homo sapien activities. Activities that make us feel good – deep down in our DNA kind of good, not succumbing to the mouth pleasure of Pringles but making the cells in your body weep kind of good. We must remember that before we are lawyers, before we are teachers, before we are accountants, we are homo sapiens. We must remember that before any other artificial social role we identify with, we are inherently, unavoidably homo sapiens. And accordingly, we should curate our lives from an evolutionary perspective; this is the best way to ensure deep, lasting health and happiness.
While it would be ill-advised to quit your job and live out in the woods, it is imperative that we find a balance in maintaining some of our modern day luxuries while simultaneously doing the things that homo sapiens ought to do. And hey, if you’ve never been the type to walk around barefoot or swim in open water, don’t worry, I’ve created the following checklist to ensure that you avoid any and all diseases of excess, disuse, or novelty:
1. Have a tribe. Friends and family that you can share the highs with, and protect you against the lows. People that you can hug, dance, and/or have sex with. People who care about your well-being more than they care about the ”bottom line”
2. Embrace hormetic stressors. These are “natural” stressors that are good in moderation, but dangerous in large amounts. Exercise. Take a cold shower and shiver. Sit in a sauna and feel too hot. Go several hours, maybe even a day without eating. Stress your body so that it stays strong and healthy.
3. Limit modern-day luxuries. Processed food is awesome in small amounts, but will eventually make you obese. Computers and phones are awesome as tools of learning, or for business, but will eventually make you depressed, anxious, and isolated.
Let’s all stop acting weird and start acting human again.
As always, if you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond Gym for any of your personal training needs.
Patrick Koo – Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness
Liebermann, D. E. (2014). The story of the human body: Evolution, health, and disease. Vintage.
Liebermann, D.E. (2015). Is exercise really medicine? An evolutionary perspective. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(4), 313-319.
Smetanin et al. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto, ON. Statistics Canada. (2005). Canadian Community Health Survey (Cycle 3.1). Ottawa, ON.
Quinn, Daniel. (1992). Ishmael. New York: Bantam Books