In my first post in this series, “Three steps to a limitless life,” I outlined what I believe to be the three most important goals to work toward in life: physical, mental, and social well-being. A chief side-effect of the person who has cultivated these attributes is health, happiness and success.
There’s something that needs to be understood about these “goals” though, that make them different from, say, losing 10 pounds of fat by October 1st or something similar. While the example goal is specific and measurable – these are something else. Maybe goals is the wrong word – they’re more principles and virtues to be worked toward constantly than goals that can be finished and checked off a list.
Achieving physical, mental and social well-being, unlike simple to-do’s, require constant maintenance. Think of it as pruning a tree; cutting away the dead and overgrown branches to increase fruitfulness and growth. Eliminating the unnecessary and cultivating desirable traits. This isn’t something you do for only one growing season, but throughout the life of the tree. And it applies to you no differently.
Another key idea I believe true of these three steps is that they are all interdependent. I don’t believe it’s possible to neglect one aspect and expect the others to reach fruition. I think great progress can be made rapidly by realizing this and working to develop all three. Incidentally, I believe each step also branches out and helps promote advances in the others, and I think physicality is the base of them all. In other words, being in shape encourages improvements in mental and social health as well.
Current Society vs Human Nature
Let’s get this clear from the start: man was not designed to sit. Especially for long periods. Our ancestors didn’t sit around in a cubicle all day, then come home, turn off their brains, and sit in front of a television screen. Our ancestors also didn’t have obesity epidemics with resulting diseases that threatened the health of entire nations. Shocking, I know.
No, instead humans were designed to play, to hunt, to build, to walk, dance and fight.
The proof is in our anatomy, primarily the presence of the thickest and most powerful tendon in our body: the Achilles tendon. Absent or shortened and thus less efficient in other walking animals, the Achilles tendon is a gift that humans are evolutionarily privileged to have received. The function? Providing elastic energy storage for jumping, running and walking.
Nearly every top killer in the Western world – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and a dozen other forms of cancer – was unknown to our ancestors. They didn’t have medicine, but they did have a magic bullet – or maybe two, judging by the number of digits Dr. Bramble was holding up. “You could literally halt epidemics in their tracks with this one remedy,” he said. He flashed two fingers up in a peace sign, then slowly rotated them downward until they were scissoring through space. The Running Man. “So simple,” he said. “Just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.”–Christopher McDougall, Born to Run
Unfortunately, inactivity has become ingrained into our society as the norm. This is partly due to massive changes in lifestyle we’ve seen in the past 100 years or so. With the advent of the TV, personal computers and the desk job people are sitting more than ever. We have transformed into a society that consumes more than it creates, and moved from the production of raw physical goods (read: manual labor) to a service based society (corporate jobs). In 1800 farmers made up 90% of the labor force in the United States. Today? Less than 2.5%. And while that might be great for so-called “productivity” of a business, it decidedly isn’t great news for our health. Today, most peoples jobs involve a whole lot of sitting.
And the worst news? Sitting is killing you. (Click for infographic). (No, I’m serious, fucking click and read it).
Consider this: 100 years ago around 1 in 150 Americans were overweight or obese, or .067 percent. Today its closer to 65%. And that’s in the last 100 years, literally the blink of an eye in regard to our evolutionary history! If this doesn’t set off your alarm to some of the seriously negative implications to the current mainstream and accepted lifestyles of today then I don’t know what will.
Also, know that inactivity has some seriously negative side-effects besides just decreased physical health. Depression, anxiety, lowered confidence and testosterone to name a few. There’s that interdependency thing I was talking about.
What You Should Do
If you read that infographic above like I told you to (you did, right?) you’d notice what I think is the most interesting aspect; according to the study your chance of death is dramatically increased from extended periods of sitting regardless of how much you exercise. Thus, there is only one thing I suggest as a solution. In a word: activity. Simply be more active, more consistently.
There’s myriad ways this can be accomplished and I’ll save that for another, more detailed article. Here’s what I recommend (the basics):
- At least 30-60 minutes of walking per day, in addition to…
- At least 3 (I recommend no more than 4) high intensity resistance training days per week, working your full body. The form of resistance can be weights or bodyweight. No longer than 45 minutes, not including a dynamic warmup. Rest less, work more.
- Focus on functional and natural movements in your workouts, i.e. compound lifts (multi-joint) and movements such as pull ups, push ups, inverted bodyweight rows, single leg squats, rope climbs, etc.
- Walk, run, jump, climb, crawl, wrestle, lift heavy shit, balance, throw, swim – you were designed to do it
- Sprint. It’s the best way to lose fat – try hill sprints for even better results. Run at 95% effort up, walk back down, repeat. Again, be sure to get a dynamic warmup in. Start slow, add more sprints over time. 30-40 yards.
- Make your long, slow activities even longer and slower (think walks, etc) and your short, intense exercise even shorter and more intense (resistance training, sprints, etc)
The points outlined above are the keys to losing fat and building muscle. Do that, and with proper nutrition you will see dramatic results. Focus on natural movement, eliminate most isolation movements from your workouts.
What do I mean by “natural” movement? Things your body would do in nature. I highly recommend checking out this video of Erwan le Corre, the founder of a exercise philosophy simply called MovNat. Granted, most of us won’t have the liberty to frolic through beautiful scenery on the daily, but I want to firmly plant the idea in your head – the idea of how humans were intended to move.
Why Knowing All This Means Absolutely Nothing
While knowing why inactivity is bad and how to fix it is all well and good, it leaves us with a real problem; knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate to action. It’s not like we don’t know we’re supposed to be active. Everyone knows that. But it’s a whole lot easier to sit around and do nothing. Hell, I’m typing this sitting down and have been brainstorming and writing for a couple hours now. Irony at its finest, folks.
It’s also a bit of a paradox. The funny thing about people is this: the more choices we have and the more information we have, the more likely we are to do absolutely nothing. It’s true.
So what do we do? It’s not like we can all just say “fuck it” and go out and work in the fields all day, plowing and fixing fences and whatnot. Our society is no longer designed for that. You’ve got jobs you can’t just ignore, right? Well… maybe not for long.
Just because the current norm, the status quo if you will, demands you sit for 8 hours on the job, and also promotes sitting in front of TV’s and mindless consumption (of foods and products) doesn’t mean it’s what you should be doing. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of what we should be doing. Humans simply weren’t designed to live the way modern society demands.
And that’s something to consider.
What we really need is a fundamental reform in the way our society is structured and operates. We need a massive change in perspective regarding the importance of connection to our natural environment and lifestyle. We need jobs that aren’t killing us from stress and inactivity, that leave us depressed and unfulfilled. We need to encourage and educate people how to eat and move. Then we need to make that lifestyle the cheaper, more convenient and more fashionable choice.
This, I think, is the greatest challenge of my generation. I believe the time of mass production, wasteful consumption and the inhuman corporate drone jobs is coming to an overdue end, thanks largely to the power of the internet. The industrial era is coming to a close.
It’s time to reclaim our nature. It’s time to evolve.