Thursday, November 18, 2010

You, the Caveman

Much of modern humanity has done something that's presumably unique in Earth's history. There are enclaves on this planet that have managed to bend nature to their will rather than the other way around. If you're reading this, then chances are good that you don't have to worry about killing, catching, digging up, or gathering your food. Chances are also good that many, many generations of your family tree haven't had to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The notion of living off the land is merely fodder for dreary, post-apocalyptic movies as far as you're concerned.
There's just one problem: our bodies haven't adapted to this new reality of this environment nearly as fast as we've managed to shape it. While the thoughts and worries of day-to-day survival drifts farther out of our minds, our body still operates on that premise. Where that becomes problematic is our lack of realization of this and how it relates to how we take care of our bodies. That's why I don't think that articles about how cavemen function are hype. If we're going figure out how to live, we need to understand the "why's" of how our body works.
We may not eat like him, but we still function like him!

I've read several articles in the past year and a half about how our we get fat. I've forgotten most of what I read but I didn't miss the bigger picture: our bodies have a lot of different ways to get fat. There's easily a half-dozen hormones that could be released that trigger the growth of blubber. Maybe more. The take-away lesson: Every body loves fat and it does anything it can to get it! That's why arguing about low calorie vs. low carb dieting is pointless. High calorie diets will make you fat. So will high carb diets. Fat is the body's energy bank account when the food runs away or dies off for the season. Look around outside if the leaves are falling off the trees where you live: every animal's doing everything it can to get fat! We used to have to do that too. Our body hasn't gotten the memo. It's still trying to do everything it can to get fat.

This also dispels another, bullshit notion: being fat is genetic. Well, not exactly. It might be genetic, yes. Thing is: WE'RE ALL DESIGNED TO GET FAT!

We can't leave out movement either. Face it: too many of us don't move enough. I guess the modern world assumed that after working ourselves to death (which we don't do these days... NOT BY A LONGSHOT!) by our mid 40's for the first 10,000 years of our existence, life would be heaven... if. we. barely. moved. at. all. We move so little that we seemed to have forgotten how to move properly. So, when the sedentary decide that it's a damn-good time to start moving, they turn to... I can understand why most people turn to some kind of long-slow distance running as a means of re-igniting the desire to move. It's one of the few activities that you don't really need anything to do. You don't need a machine or gear (although "they" have convinced a lot of people that they do!) to do it. There's just one problem: that's not what we were built to do! We've got two basic types of muscle: fast twitch and slow twitch. Many of us know this, and we know what they're all about. In case you don't...

Fast Twitch=powerful, intense, contractions. last no longer than 60 seconds
Slow Twitch=much less intense and powerful contractions. lasts for a long time.

There is no such thing as a medium twitch muscle fiber. When we were troglydtes, we journeyed over massive swaths of land over a period of days or weeks or we moved with great intensity for very brief periods of time. We weren't designed to move kinda fast for sort-of long periods of time. The first Marathon runner died after he finished. So, if you're new (again) to moving remember this when you exercise: move in a strong, intense manner or move very, very slowly. Forget the in-between shit!

While you're strength training keep this in mind too: if you're trying to get as strong as possible, you're failing. No, really... you're probably not even using a fraction of your muscle power. That's what you don't hear about much when discussing different types of strength: absolute strength. We only contract our muscles with a fraction of it's full-force potential. The mind only releases this extra power when it senses a life-or-death need to do so. Releasing this kind of power usually injures tendons and ligaments. This explains the mom picking up the car stories... or The Mighty Atom. Or, as so wonderfully chronicled in the Discovery Channel in The Human Body: Pushing the Limits(<----THIS IS A HINT...BUY THIS!!! ),the story of the guy who pushed a 1,000 lbs rock off his chest to avoid being simultaneously crushed and thrown off a cliff...

Let's just play devil's advocate for a moment: what if you could? When the mind senses a need, it will force the body to do it's bidding. That guy who threw the boulder off his chest tore some muscles up and gave himself the mother lode of tendinitis doing so. Compared to dying, that's a fair trade-off. Is getting a too-big weight off the ground, with the same results, for the sake of pride a worthwhile trade-off?

We can verify a lot of conclusions about how our body works by examining why it would need to work that way. Even as we advance our technology and modify the relationship between ourselves and our environment, we need to keep in mind that our past is still alive and well within our bodies, regardless of whether or not these adaptations serve a purpose or not anymore. One thing that we haven't been able to bend to our will is our body's function and regardless of what many say, science doesn't hold any promise of changing that. We still have to adapt our behavior to our bodies.

No comments: