Fitness expert Ben Greenfield says we can all dramatically improve our physical and emotional health by taking a few cues from our Paleolithic ancestors*, who didn't struggle with the scourges of obesity, diabetes and other debilitating conditions that are all too common in the United States.
One thing that can radically improve our lives is to be active throughout the day, instead of limiting exercise to time spent at the gym.
"Research has shown that when it comes to your health and longevity, it doesn’t matter how hard you exercise at the end of a long day of work if you’re spending the entire day in a seated position," Greenfield wrote Aug. 27 on Mark's Daily Apple.
"So simply think about how you can adjust your daily routine so that your body is in a constantly active mode."
Greenfield, a fitness coach, triathlete and health-book author, says we can become heartier by exposing ourselves to a variety of environmental stressors. While most people's instinct is to always seek out comfort, Greenfield says it's important to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
"It'’s OK (and perfectly ancestral) to be uncomfortable and to have randomness in your life," he writes. "Ancient man did not have air conditioning and central heating – so it’s OK for your bedroom, your office or your car to sometimes be too hot, or too cold."
While most people are so accustomed to rigidly eating at the same times every day that they panic if they miss even a single meal, Greenfield says occasionally skipping meals is perfectly normal (and optimal) from an ancestral-health point of view.
"It’s OK to sometimes be hungry, sometimes fast, and sometimes eat completely random meals you’d normally never eat (breakfast for dinner, anyone?)," he wrote. "Sometimes lions and bears jump out and chase you — so it’s OK to skip that aerobic bike ride and instead do a short, intense, four-minute Tabata set — and vice versa.
"So be uncomfortable. Expose your body to occasional, sane amounts of natural stress and disorder. This will fight fragility, keep you alive and vibrant, and allow your lungs, muscles and heart to overcome gradually adapting to the demands you place upon them."
Greenfield, author of Beyond Training, shared other ancestral-health tips, including:
- Know your body, and tailor your diet and workouts accordingly.
- Get adequate rest.
- Don't worry, be happy.
[*Editor's note: While the notion that caveman lived only to age 30 is popular, it bears noting that Paleolithic people routinely enjoyed healthy, 70-year lifespans, as long as they survived childbirth, early infancy and didn't die from an animal attack or infection.
The myth that caveman only lived two or three decades came from averaging their "typical" lifespan with the numerous premature deaths of Paleolithic women during childbirth; the routine early demise of children during infancy from infection; and deaths from animal attacks (e.g., during hunting).]