Today I want to share something that isn't a topic in health and fitness, but rather a philosophy for viewing our health. We receive health tips all the time... so many that it becomes a random collection of lists in our mind. After a while the lists become endless. This is due to the analytical way we approach most issues. We attempt to deconstruct things into independent elements. We do this so that we can then reconstruct things the way we see fit. It's an approach that has served us well in fields like technology.
Unfortunately, when we apply the technique of deconstruction to human health we disregard the wisdom stored in our bodies that has accumulated over millions of years. Think about that. Imagine your car had an issue, and you had the choice between a mechanic who had been fixing your particular car model for millions of years (a very sage mechanic)... or a PhD student who had been studying your car for the past year? No contest, right? You'd go with the mechanic.
It's a similar situation with our body. Evolution involves a concept called natural selection. Random mutations occur in a species, and if a mutation proves beneficial for survival, it proliferates in the descendants. This process creates a species that is optimized for its environment. Problems of the past are solved, and their solutions are built into the circuitry of our DNA.
But how do we access these solutions that are coded into us? Well... we don't have to. All we have to do is give our bodies the environment for which they were optimized, and then get out of the way. It's a two-part challenge. First we have to think about how humans spent their lives thousands of years ago. Then we have to apply those principles to our current life. The world has changed so drastically that it's impossible to live exactly as we used to, but we can find pretty close facsimiles for the ways we used to eat, move, and spend our days.
The beauty of this approach is that we don't have to understand everything from a scientific point of view. We simply need to emulate key aspects of our ancestral environment, and let the coded solutions inside us work their magic. I'll give an example. We know that ancient man spent most of his day outdoors. If we emulate this behavior we find it's beneficial to our health. We don't need to know why. It's just a simple habit that we can practice. But now along comes the scientific approach which concludes that the reason being outside promotes health is because our skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. So we say, "OK, just take a vitamin D pill, and don't worry about spending time outdoors. Problem solved!". However, it turns out there's a lot more to the story than vitamin D. Sun exposure also increases the oxygen content in our blood, stimulates the conversion of cholesterol into testosterone, and increases white blood cell count. In addition to those immediate effects, getting sunlight during the day helps to set our circadian rhythm allowing us to fall asleep more easily at night. Also, spending time outdoors reduces stress levels.
This is just one example of how emulating an ancient behavior can be much simpler and more beneficial than trying to outsmart ourselves with science. This approach is often referred to as ancestral health. One of the leaders of the movement is Mark Sisson. He has come up with a list (yes another list, but it's a short one) of practices that emulate our lifestyle from days of old. He calls it the Primal Blueprint. Check it out. I find this approach to health empowering.