HEALTH NEWSLETTER #22

EVO•TEE -
EVOLUTIONARY THINKING, EATING AND EXERCISING

1st March 2017

It's March and that must mean Spring is near, my favourite season of the year. I hope this newsletter will inspire you to take action and make your life just that little bit healthier and happier.

Reading time: 4 mins


Physical Activity and Health

If you missed it, catch up by clicking on the picture.

If you missed it, catch up by clicking on the picture.

You might have seen that I’ve been busy chopping logs. In a recent video I spoke about my love of the axe and the benefits of physical work. Today is the first of March and I’ve been outside working hard again. The birds were singing and the sun was shining, it felt like Spring had sprung!

I’ve also noticed changes in my body since spending fewer days tied to my laptop. Combining some manual labour with some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has left me looking leaner and feeling stronger. Unfortunately exercise isn't always enough to burn body fat. But when we combine exercise with increased physical activity, body fat runs into hiding!

When I got back from work today I took a shower, had a bit to eat and then grabbed my laptop. Upon opening it I saw an article I’d been meaning to read for a while…

Ever wonder why we love the sofa so much?

Who wins? Sofa or gym? Credit: Pixabay

Who wins? Sofa or gym?

Credit: Pixabay

The article discusses the impact of evolution on our low rates of exercise and physical activity (PA). The authors argue that our inactivity is a function of an evolved human tendency to avoid unnecessary physical exertion.

I’ve been wanting to write about this topic since starting EVO•TEE because a lack of exercise and physical activity create significant health challenges. The article is lengthy and complex so I’ll do my best to distill it.

“Our evolutionary ancestors—whether protohumans or earlier ancestors—had to perform vast amounts of PA just to obtain food and avoid predators. Thus, if anything, our ancestors, along with other animal species, had the opposite energy balance problem from the one faced by modern humans: taking in enough energy to maintain energy balance given the energy expenditure necessary for survival and reproduction.”
— Lee et al. 2016

Here are the key findings:

  • Expending energy without purpose would have decreased the survival and reproductive fitness of human evolutionary ancestors.
  • Thus we have evolved a trait to conserve energy, which increased our survival and reproductive fitness.
  • Physical activities with a clear and immediate purpose, such as walking to work, may result in a more positive affective response than walking or biking for no immediate purpose.

Furthermore:

  • Most of us are not put off by physical activity below the Ventilatory Threshold (such as slow walking)
  • Some of us just don't like to be physically active.
  • Physical Activity or exercise above the Ventilatory Threshold tends to put people off.

Ventilatory Threshold (VT) is defined by a transition from aerobic to anaerobic energy production and is determined by the Talk Test. If one can talk whilst exercising, then they're below the VT and if one cannot talk then they’re above the VT.
 

“Expending energy through extraneous PA that had no purpose other than to expend energy (i.e., exercise) would have decreased the survival and reproductive fitness of human evolutionary ancestors. As a result, selection pressures would have favored the genetic predisposition to conserve energy by avoiding PA that did not serve a direct adaptive function, such as obtaining food, fleeing from predators, or engaging in important social interactions.”
— Lee et al. 2016
Not a sofa in sight! Photo credit: Wiki Commons

Not a sofa in sight!

Photo credit: Wiki Commons

In the article, we’re warned that just because we have innate tendencies towards inactivity, we are unchangeable. The authors offer some of the following advice, and I’ve made a few additions:

  • Walk or cycle to work.
  • Rely on gardening for producing fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Promote activities that mimic the once necessary activities of hunting (chasing) prey and escaping (fleeing) predators (such as rugby, football, basketball etc.).
  • Learning to dance to attract a member of the opposite sex.
  • Commit to owning a dog that requires daily exercise.
  • Volunteer to help the elderly in your community with gardening and DIY tasks.

Interestingly, many of these have benefits beyond gaining more physical activity. The psycho-social benefits of volunteering are significant and well documented.


“In sum, the functional significance of the human tendency to avoid intentional physical exercise is that it allowed us to conserve energy, thus leading to decreased risk of potential energy deficits, and increased likelihood of survival and reproduction among our evolutionary ancestors.”
— Lee et al. 2016

Stacking

A few months ago I listened to an interview with Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and proponent of ‘nutritious’ movement. She discussed the difficulties of being healthy whilst maintaining family and work commitments. How can we ever fit in all of these around a job and a family?

  • Time in the gym or playing sport
  • Time in nature
  • Time cooking nutritious food
  • Time meditating or doing yoga
  • Time doing hobbies

Her answer to this problem is to stack activities. An example she gave was to spend an hour foraging for mushrooms in the woods with her children. That way she would be spending quality time outside, educating her children. She would also be exercising and sourcing food for the family. Whilst she's outside she could also incorporate yoga, meditation or a workout.

Just watch out for these ones!!! Photo Credit: Pixabay

Just watch out for these ones!!!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

I have found similar success with my log splitting, but also in volunteering at a local farm. Next weekend I’ll return to the Moss Valley, an organic and biodynamic market garden farm. I spend my time there being physically active: walking, squatting, lifting, pushing and pulling. I spend it outside under the natural light of the sun. I spend it with like minded people who introduce me to novel ideas and stimulating conversation. And the best bit is that I get to take home some fresher than fresh seasonal food.

“Look for solutions to your problems and you will find them.”

The narrative mind

Another way I stack behaviours is to listen to educational podcasts and books (I use Audible for my audiobooks). Whilst I was splitting logs I was also listening to this mind blowing book...

 
 

...one of the chapters discussed the experiencing mind and the narrative mind. Yuval Noah Harari explains that our experiencing (subconscious) mind makes decisions and afterwards our narrative (conscious) mind makes up a story to justify our decision.

Now, this concept makes many of us question the concept of free will, but the stories we tell believe in also influence our behaviour. Take religion as an example, or paper money, or invisible borders between countries.

The stories we tell ourselves control so many of our habits and actions. What story do you tell yourself about exercise, fitness, health and happiness? Examine your thoughts a little deeper and you'll find self defeating narratives. So if you want health, happiness and success, try changing the story you tell yourself.

 For those interested in reading the article please click here.


SOCIAL

Head over to Instagram and check out my latest adventures to Northumberland and the Peak District National Park.

As ever, thanks for taking the time to read my work and I hope it provides you with the insight you need to become healthier and happier.

Your feedback is always welcome, so don't be shy and don't forget to forward this email onto friends and loved ones. The healthier we all are, the better the world will be, for everyone.

All the best

James @

EVO•TEE