Can you imagine going out on your lunchbreak to run, crawl, climb, swim and hunt for food instead of grabbing a sandwich from your company cafeteria?
Without suggesting that we should scale back to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle – even though I’d love to give it a shot but there simply aren’t enough chickens running around the world anymore – there’s something profound we disrupted with the introduction of agricultural revolution that we need to take back. It’s the amount of physical activity we used to do daily and the by products of having much comfortable lifestyles. Despite the original intentions, it kind of got out of hand and mankind as such is suffering from mental illnesses, obesity, whole bunch of diseases stemming from inactive lifestyle and harmful diets and the list can go on. Y’all physical activity haters, please stop reading now. Everyone else, here’s a Lifestyle tip for 2017: Exercise like hunter-gatherer.
The counterintuitive truth about our exercise habits
Why do we exercise? Whether you do it to get that endorphin kick or to look more attractive, you probably wouldn’t associate physical training with becoming better at your job or becoming a happier human being overall. Yet, the amount and the kind of physical activity we do has a critical impact on how we perform both in our professional and personal lives. Check out the brain scans of physically active people and the impact of exercise on happiness and productivity in this Fast Company article. There’s been a hell of a lot written and discussed on this topic for example here: HBR, Huffington Post, CNN and of course a bunch of millions other places but still. Social acceptance in places like the workplace, for example, for people who exercise goes as far as “do it in your spare time and pay for it from your own pocket”. Exercise is considered a nice to have that’s reserved only for certain people – be it for the lack of resources or time, or both. Physical exercising is the first thing we take out of our lives when things get busy or ugly. Given how beneficial exercising is for us though, that’s totally counterintuitive. It’s time to claim our right to do all that fun physical stuff we enjoy and justify it – here’s how you do it.
First, the evolution
So, why do we even find ourselves in the position of having to watch our daily intake and output in the first place? Way back in the day, humans had to walk and run miles each day to hunt for food in order to avoid starving or to avoid becoming someone else’s feast. Those days are long gone. Today, we not only have more than enough food but we indulge in it big time. Many of us overeat on a daily basis. We misconceive nutrition for taste. What’s more, the shift away from the hunter gatherer lifestyle caused that the natural fitness that accompanied running around savannahs is gone, too. In most places around the world it’s way too easy to find ingredients to either cook a meal or to eat within just few minutes from people’s homes. No wonder then, that we’re not only oversupplied with food but we’re also undersupplied with physical activity.
Identify your reason for exercising and understand it
When I was diagnosed with high blood pressure I was given two options: take medication for the rest of my life or change my lifestyle. The lifestyle change, which was obviously my preferred option required a commitment to daily exercise. The trouble was I’d already been exercising a lot (several times a week) doing high-paced, explosive, cardio activities. I didn’t understand why despite this, I was getting stressed and why the blood pressure values were shit. Sure, my condition was genetic but aren’t the illnesses supposed to be in our minds as much as they are in our bodies? I was in a denial. There had to be a way! I decided to investigate what exactly was wrong with my mind that the cardio exercise wasn’t getting to. I decided to try yoga. Things began to shift. That was the beginning of my understanding why a single activity would never cut it and why I needed to move every single day. Whatever is your reason for getting active, understanding the key motivation helps you find the right kind of activity or a mix of a few.
Let’s get physical. But how?
Physical activity is never just about the body. Everything’s connected – the body – the mind – the spirit. Running on a treadmill alone won’t solve your stress issues. It can act as a dose and relieve your stress temporarily but if you want a long-term effect you better look for something more holistic. A combination of activities is a good way to balance stuff. Look into when, where and how you perform exercise – what do you actually enjoy? For me, yoga was a excellent complement to the cardio stuff and it set me on a path of discovery of many dimensions that physical exercise has to offer other then just getting sweaty. Various aspects like the environment, the tools, the people you do it with matter a lot. Someone’s more excited about water sports, other people enjoy mountains. You might be a group activity kind of person or enjoy being alone while conquering peaks and letting things flow in your mind and your body. You most probably already know what you enjoy. Don’t think about the amount of calories burn, think about what excites you, what you wanna get better at, what stimulates your whole YOU. We’re actually super privileged today – not having to run for a survival but instead being able to choose the kind of activity we like doing. Use that privilege.
The magic triangle
My current setup is YOGA, KALI (weapons based martial arts) and SURFING. This is my magic triangle. The reason why this works for me is because of the balance and harmony it creates as a whole – I need that to be able to feel powered up, strong, but also focused and grounded. Equally, each activity has a little bit of the other, which is where transfer of knowledge and skills comes into play. Yoga represents the yin elements – mindfulness, focus, breath, stretching, opening up, transformation. Martial arts is yang – it’s dynamic, empowering, it requires focus under a lot of pressure. Surfing is somewhere in between – I meditate in the water, sometimes I just paddle out to get in the zone and think. The most powerful part of surfing for me is the environment – the ocean – its strength and me as a surfer needing to learn about it and becoming a part of something bigger. It all reminds me how small I am, it’s a brilliant humbling exercise, yet I get super confident and stoked when I get lucky and get a good wave.
Way beyond just physical well-being
Physical fitness is a simple term but it represents so much: the driven mindset that makes us not quit and the resilience we build thanks to this overtime; the fun times we enjoy with others while exercising; the relationships we build during those activities; the challenge of being outside our comfort zone; the time-off that enables us to acquire new perspectives and think different; the healthier, more positive mind and yes a healthier and fitter physical body.
Together with understanding the diet side of things and by referring back to that hunter-gatherer guy every once in a while we can start questioning how do individual foods make us feel? What about the frequency with which we eat and occasions for eating? When are we energised, nourished, powered-up? What slows us down and makes us feel unwell? How to incorporate eating into our day to make the most out of what food has to offer? Stop the drastic diet bullshit and listen to your own body. We’re all different. We have different reactions, different systems and different motivations and drivers.
Business should pay their employees to exercise
I love seeing some businesses embracing the exercise culture. They not only let employees work out but they actively contribute to their well-being by organising exercise sessions in house, whole away days outdoors, sponsor gym memberships and encourage people to work remotely in order for them to be able to design their daily schedules depending on their very own body rhythms. Business should care because a happy, sane and physically empowered employee makes a world of difference to the company culture and its outputs.
The future: social acceptance for zero make-up
There’s still a long way to go in terms of our general awareness around the need to exercise. If we want to approach it from the hunter-gatherer angle let’s think about – where in our days can we fit more physical activities? What chores can we turn into fun activities – e.g. commuting, house chores, time in the office. However, the mind shift can only occur once the society accepts that at least a part of our day should be spent running around and sweating, which entails a whole lot of others shifts – acceptance for zero make-up, sportswear or technical wear. I’ve been a huge fan of the ADAY clothing brand, which enables and encourages its customers to hit a HIIT class right after a business meeting and vice versa. Can we have more of these please?