The Natural World

By Michael Krueger

Long ago, in a more a natural world, we would have spent a great deal of our time hunting, gathering, running from predators, and finding a safe place to sleep. If your body wasn’t strong enough to carry you through your day, you would probably die. This was frequently a short and brutal existence, to say the least. My, how times have changed.

Survival

Nowadays, we don’t use our body in quite the same way as we did when we lived on the vast savannahs. We hunt and gather in grocery stores and restaurants and return to the same place each night to sleep. We have more than enough to eat, and the fear of wild animal attacks is minimal. Yet, we have all sorts of illnesses related to this “easy” life. Modern life isn’t short anymore, but the consequences of our unnatural way of living can still be brutal. Just spend a day at a hospital or, worse yet, a nursing home if you don’t believe me.

When we talk about life and what we do to ensure our continued existence, we don’t even use the word “survival” anymore (unless we have gotten a grim prognosis from our doctor). We think about our work life as something we do to get the money to buy things rather than being our means of survival. We were much more aware of how important our body was to our survival when, if we weren’t fast enough to run down our dinner, we went hungry. Or, even more to the point, if we weren’t fast enough to outrun a predator, we became dinner.

Now a person can be obese, unfit, and unaware of the value of food and exercise and still live a relatively long, albeit perhaps somewhat diminished, life. We have forgotten how important it is to our primal identity to have a strong and healthy body. By not being fit, you are missing out on a huge portion of what it means to be an authentic human being.

Modern Life

We have paid a huge price for our big, complex brain. In so many ways, we have lost touch with the simple fact that we are animals. Have you ever watched horses run, seemingly for the simple joy of it? When was the last time you ran for the sheer exhilaration of the movement? To function properly, both mentally and physically, we need to connect with the animal side of our nature. Our brains, through technological advances, have made it easy to get through our days without exerting ourselves or even having to think about our nutrition or fitness, and this hasn’t really done us any good at all.

For an example of the toll domestication takes, consider the modern canine. In the natural world, he would spend all his waking hours looking for food. Now he spends most of his day sleeping. When you take your dog for a walk, his brain tells him he is scrounging for food, and this makes him balanced and happy. Granted, he won’t find much to eat (except for Caesar, my Chocolate Lab) until he gets home and looks in his bowl. Just the same, he is fulfilling a primal instinct by walking and sniffing. If you deny him this activity, he will not only get fat but he will get crazy as well. Allow a dog to physically “earn” his food by going for walks, and he doesn’t get fat or crazy.

We, on the other hand, are getting fat and crazy. We eat without thinking and no longer equate physical activity with survival, much less the act of hunting and gathering. We don’t “earn” our food, and our brains and our bodies don’t understand that. We’ve got too much glucose in our blood and cholesterol building up in our arteries. We don’t use our food efficiently anymore, in part because our foods are so overprocessed that they are almost unrecognizable to our bodies as food.
We are relying more and more on the medical world to keep us “healthy.” How many drugs does it take to keep the average American alive? Our bodies have no blueprint to work from to know how to function in this crazy world we have created. We are seldom really hungry, nor are we satisfied once we are done eating. We don’t move if we don’t have to, and we’ve lost the basic instinct of hunting, gathering, and eating food as fuel. I like good food as much as the next guy, but recreational eating is not a good thing. As a consequence of all that, we have lost our sense of place in the natural world.

Modern Consumption

What does it say about a society where we have an industry dedicated to creating food without calories? We eat so many extra calories that we exercise to “burn” them up, like they are waste products. Rather than eat reasonable amounts of natural food, we consume ridiculous amounts of “puffs, chips, and doodles” made primarily with chemicals instead. No one knows precisely how this chemistry experiment is going to affect the health of humankind over the long run. My guess is it isn’t going to be for the better.

Food scientists have come up with the perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat to keep us eating long after we are no longer hungry. Add to that the proficiency of the advertising world to get us to buy pretty much anything they want, and you get the sorry state of health and fitness we are now experiencing. There are “snack” foods that contain enough calories to be considered a meal, yet we eat them without a second thought. The next time you buy something to eat that comes in a box or bag, read the label and then decide if it is something you really want to eat.

When you take the time to prepare a meal from quality, simple ingredients, you are making both a short-term and a long-term investment in your health and fitness. Short term, because your body can make much better use of natural lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and your mind will immediately benefit from the calming yet empowering act of creating a meal. Long term, you’ll benefit because you aren’t ingesting unneeded additional calories, manmade fats, salt, and chemicals, which may make you both fat and sick.

There isn’t a packaged food made that you couldn’t make better, healthier, and cheaper yourself. You just need to take the time and make the effort. Don’t you think you and your family are worth it?

Exercise

Because we aren’t running about finding food and escaping from lions, we need to simulate those activities for our bodies and minds to stay strong and healthy. Cardiovascular exercise and strength training are the staples of any effective fitness program, and they are also two activities that literally come naturally to us.

Your heart and lungs need to be worked to stay efficient. Our big brain requires a lot of glucose and oxygen to function properly, and the circulatory system is how it is delivered. Ignore this, and you will first become dull and then you will be dead.
Muscles are important for movement and for basic healthy metabolism. Increased muscle mass is valuable, since this is where the bulk of the glucose is stored for future use. Obviously, the more muscle you have in relation to your total body weight, the better and more efficiently you will move. Big, showy muscles are not of any greater use (unless you really want to be a body builder) than compact, strong, high-endurance muscles. Overall strength for most of us is not necessarily indicated by big, bulky muscles. It has a lot more to do with how you train, but that’s a discussion for another column.

An Uncertain Future

We would all like to live a long, healthy, and productive life. Unfortunately, not all of us will. Tragically, some will leave far too early, while others will be fortunate and live to a ripe old age and die peacefully, surrounded by loved ones. Still others will become old and bitter, while suffering with all manner of problems both physical and mental.

There is no guarantee that eating well, exercising, and maintaining an active lifestyle will give you longevity or even quality of life in old age; but it is a good way to hedge your bets.

 

Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.com

 

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