5 Ways to Reconnect with your Ancient Design
The underlying cause of the unfortunate rise of modern diseases, many of which where heretofore unknown to the human race, can perhaps best be summarized by this: stimuli from modern living is in conflict with our biology.
We take a lot for granted living in a modern culture. For example, it's only been in the last few decades that we had a notion of, let's-wait-a-few-months-and-a-new-improved-one-will-release. While the way we use our screens has its own sets of issues and uses, I wanted to offer five very basic things you could do today to improve your health and give a little more respect to the way our bodies were meant to interact with the environment.
1. Face to sun. Exposing your body to the full spectrum of sunlight has a direct impact on regulatory hormone response. Facing the sun in the morning helps to suppress your sleep hormone, melatonin and increases the energizing hormone cortisol. It also helps the production of seratonin, a mood lifting hormone that, when stimulated properly in the morning, can aid in melatonin production later in the day, helping to facilitate restful sleep. If you have the time, shoot for up to 45 minutes of direct sun exposure early in the morning. And consider leaving the shades at home as the effects on those hormones will be blunted if some of that natural light is filtered out. Remember, humans didn't have sunglasses for most of our existence yet we still produced offspring with good vision.
2. Take your shoes off (once in a while). When new gym-goers first start getting into the weight room, they will usually see quick improvement over a short period of time but that doesn't mean their muscles are growing in equal proportion to this new found strength. This is due to the effect of something called "motor unit recruitment." Every muscle fiber is connected to a nerve ending which runs into the brain. When muscles aren't challenged with exercise, those neurons aren't firing and essentially become atrophied. When we reignite those muscles through exercise, or basically any activity that is outside of what we normally do, those connections are strengthened and we're able to do more with what's already on board. Modern shoes are sometimes part of the problem, and when worn too often, can deaden those motor units. We have a much higher concentration of nerve endings on the bottoms of our feet than most other parts of our bodies and when encased in a shoe that doesn't allow the normal movement of feet, over hours and hours in the day, that musculature begins to atrophy. Next time you're in a park, or even just in your home, take a few moments to let those toes splay out and remember what it feels like to feel things with your feet again.
3. Designate a time of day for phone use (apart from necessary calls). When we were still living in a tribal setting, our bodies had to have on board defense mechanisms to keep us from danger. These systems trigger us to react to novel stimulus. If we were sitting by the campfire and something out of the ordinary presented itself, it was to our advantage to take quick notice and act, whether with curiosity or defense. Taking notice of something novel has helped us to survive. In fact, taking action to reveal whatever that novelty is kicks in a small hit of dopamine, the reward hormone. Effectively, our biology rewards us for exploring novelty as it has helped us stay alive. Today, though, those same mechanisms are still alive and well but get hijacked by the novel stimulus from our phones. All of those notifications you receive take advantage of how our brains are wired and can hook us into constantly checking. This can have spillover effects in our concentrations and attention spans when we're away from our phones. One strategy that can really help alleviate this addictive property of social media is to have a 10 minute window in the morning and one in the afternoon where you take that time to intentionally check your feeds instead of having your feeds check you.
4. Incorporate more "non-exercise" movement. While you may have heard about the detriments of sitting for too long a period of time, a better way to frame that is: staying in the same position for too long is the real problem. When we sit or even stand without moving around for long periods, blood tends to pool in the veins in the legs, exerting slightly higher pressure on those vessels. Over extended periods of time, year after year of stillness, this can lead to circulatory issues by weakening the walls of the veins. In the words of an ergonomist friend, "The best position to be in is the one you're not currently in." Adding in even a few more steps in between longer stretches of sitting at your desk can help fresh blood circulate and decrease the risks associated with prolonged stillness. Try setting a timer on your desk to go off every 25-30 minutes as a reminder to get up and be kind to your circulatory system.
5. Redefine breakfast. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!" they said. Well, perhaps, but that doesn't mean you need to eat as soon as you wake up. When we look at this through the lens of our human's survival in the wild, we understand that breakfast at 7:30 was not a thing that could always be counted on. Our bodies had to allow us to wake up fully charged and ready to chase down breakfast as soon as we wake up. This priming of the pump, for most of our existence, did not come from a bowl of corn flakes, rather, it's stimulated by the release of glucocorticoid hormones, namely, cortisol and epinephrine (aka adrenaline). These hormones are highest within the first hour of our waking and serve to turn the green light on all of our body's systems that help us to hunt down food. Epinephrine mobilizes energy, making it quickly available to our muscles and cortisol preps our cardiovascular system to respond to whatever the morning jungle brings. So, breakfast doesn't have to be first thing in the morning and it need not serve as our fuel to "start our metabolism." Our bodies are already one step ahead. Consider merging your breakfast and lunch on some days, and don't be a slave to the clock when it comes to picking your meal times. This could save you time and stress on busy mornings and is a simple gesture to honor all the work your endocrine system has done to get you ready for life's stressors, whether from jungle cats or parkway traffic.