I believe it was the great Sheldon Cooper that once said, “If outside is so good, why has mankind spent thousands of years trying to perfect inside?”
Earlier this month, I wrote up a “Year in Review” post and talked a little bit about the idea that nutrition and exercise are these separate entities and if you just eat well, you’ll wake up looking like your favorite movie star from that action film that you love. And of course, there’s the opposite side of the argument that believes that you can workout during the week and then slug beers for three nights every weekend and end up looking like that same movie star from that same action film.
But here’s the secret: if either side of this argument was right, we’d have a lot more good action movies coming out right now.
And that brings me to the topic of this post. It’s impossible to blame one single decision or lifestyle choice for poor health outcomes, in the United States or elsewhere. Here’s a very short list of the most common scapegoats for the “not notably superior” health and fitness status of the notably-wealthier-than-most-other-countries-on-Earth United States:
- Sugar is as addictive as cocaine
- We eat too many carbohydrates
- We eat too much fat
- We don’t exercise enough
- Lack of access to quality food
- Too much salt in our diet
- Antibiotics and pesticides in foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Misleading marketing and food labeling
- High stress levels
- Low amounts of poor quality sleep
And the answer is yes.
All of these things contribute to the obesity epidemic and poor health of the United States (which, I just realized, becomes the Untied States if you spell it wrong). Nobody wants their States to be Untied.
But the problem with arguing that any of these ideas is the single or main reason for our poor health is that it’s just not that simple. Paleo, all-organic, and vegan diets are extreme methods of dealing with only one piece of the puzzle. Extreme slogging programs, Insanity and p90x, and working out twice a day are the same thing.
But if I was going to pare this list down to one thing, it would probably look something like this:
- We simply do not evolve fast enough to accommodate the rate at which we innovate.
Essentially, science has developed ways to create seemingly unlimited resources, but humans seem to be programmed biologically for an environment where unlimited resources do not exist.
So when science presented us with readily available food items, as well as couches, chairs, and automobiles, we didn’t look back. We started eating and we started sitting, a lot. We conserved energy (which is funny because conserving energy seems to be the last thing on anyone’s minds these days). And then we realized that we were conserving too much energy and that was making us rounder.
Since energy in vs. energy out is a very valid concept, we got this idea that jogging five miles each day would burn “X” number of calories. This means that we could eat “X” number of extra calories or we could lose “X” number of calories as bodyweight each week. So we became obsessed with the number on the scale and the number on our FitBit and tried to make “X” as large as possible.
As a society, we exercise a lot, but we don’t do enough of the right exercise.
Let’s go back to evolution. First off, we did not evolve (nor were we created) to jog long distances at a slow pace. What evolutionary advantage would that give us? It wouldn’t help us eat or avoid being eaten, that’s for sure. Humans were designed to sprint or walk. Pick one.
Second, humans weren’t designed to sit all day. For one, sitting doesn’t help you eat or avoid being eaten either. If your lifestyle was built on surviving life, you’d probably spend the day avoiding predators, hunting and gathering food, building shelter and tools for yourself, and making love to your cave-wife in order to pass your genes along. You wouldn’t spend much time perusing Facebook or shopping for cute scarves online.
By spending most of our lives sitting (at work, when we eat, in front of the tv, in the car) and by defining “exercise” as purely aerobic movements (slogging, elliptical-ing, biking, running, and exercise DVDs of varying intensities), we’ve eliminated basic human movement patterns! How often do we take heavy things and pick them up, drag/push them around, carry them, or put them above our heads? How often do we sprint? How often do you honestly copulate with your 21st century, not-cave-dwelling wife?
If the answer to any of these questions isn’t “all the time,” you need to rethink your priorities.
Now, I’m not saying that technology sucks and we should avoid it altogether. Technology has done many great things, even in the context of the list above. For example, want pesticide-less food? Then your food will be pest-full. We’ve been able to break animal proteins down into powders that mix with water so that we can have portable food and be more productive! Technology has allowed us to fight hunger, thirst, and disease throughout the world and our ancestors would probably be pretty jealous.
But if there’s one thing we should all agree on, it’s this: sitting is killing us.
The most common issue I see when performing movement assessments? Horrendous levels of core weakness. We don’t just make ourselves fat by sitting; we make ourselves weak. We lose the muscle mass that evolution worked so hard to give to us.
- Muscle is more metabolically expensive than fat.
- Strength keeps us younger by allowing us to move better and stay free of pain in areas like the knees, lower back, and shoulders.
- Lifting (relatively) heavy weights stimulates muscle and bone growth and strengthening.
- Muscle keeps it shape on the body which makes you look better naked.
- Being strong through the lower body and core will help you perform everything from Activities of Daily Living to powerful athletic movements.
- Lifting weights is intense and utilizes carbohydrates as an energy source. Though this may not necessarily improve your insulin sensitivity, it means that your carb intake will be important to restore muscle glycogen.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve advanced technology beyond our grandparents’ wildest dreams, but we’ve forgotten that our body evolved in world without modern conveniences. Our bodies weren’t designed to sit all day, drive to and from our occupations, and then head to the gym and slog it on the treadmill for an hour and a half. The Paleo diet is designed to return you to a simpler way of eating, so here’s the Paleo workout checklist:
- Pick heavy things up.
- Carry something heavy in your arms, on your back, or over your shoulder. Vary your distances and loads.
- Push and pull heavy things around. Again, vary your distance and load.
- Put things above your head (while standing, ideally).
- Sprint more, but walk a bit more too (I knocked the FitBit earlier, but walking is great exercise and stress relief.)
- Speaking of stress relief, since you’ll be looking so much better naked, get naked more often (in your own home, not in public).
That’s it, the Paleo workout program. Substitute some fitness terms in here and you’ll see that we have a program based around deadlifts, loaded carries, sled pulls/pushes, pressing variations, and sprints. If you workout program doesn’t include each and every one of the items on this checklist, you’re leaving valuable performance, aesthetic, and health upgrades on the table.
Eliminate the unnecessary sitting from your life. Eliminate the long, slow, painfully boring steady-state cardio. Eliminate the thought that you can out-diet a poor workout.
Yes, mankind has spent thousands of years perfecting inside. Inside allows us to be free from predators, stay warm from the cold, sleep better, cook food more easily, live longer, and access unlimited episodes of The Walking Dead on Netflix. But these same technologies have made us into an over-sitting population trying to find the Golden Ticket to our health and fitness problems.
Do me a favor and ask yourself, which one of these guys do you most closely resemble?
Whether you believe in evolution or are a person of religion, I think we can all agree that we’d all rather look, feel, and perform like the guy in the middle (sans beard if you’re a female, but I guess that’s your preference). But we don’t get that way by riding the recumbent bike for 45 minutes while we watch re-runs of Wife Swap.
We can only get that way by being strong.
*As a quick side note, I tried to avoid using the words evolution or creation too often. No matter what you believe, the truth is that people lived long before us and long before technology and that’s more or less the point of this article.
**As another side note and as I mentioned above, technology is awesome. It has allowed us to live almost twice as long as somebody from Ancient Rome. That being said, the guys in Ancient Rome still fought lions and stuff, so, yeah.