“Much more of the brain is devoted to movement than to language. Language is only a little thing sitting on top of this huge ocean of movement.”
This is incredibly important to recognize. More brain and body processes are linked with your capacity to move than your capacity to think. And why is that? If you consider our evolutionary roots, you will come to realize that the human species spent millennia in development, evolving bodily processes that would ensure our survival. Much of this development went toward our ability to move: for example, precarious balance over two feet to walk, run, and jump; sweat glands spread across your entire body to facilitate long-term cooling and recovery mechanisms, designed to outlast predator and prey; and variable heart rate function to manage the stresses placed upon the body during strenuous physical activity and rest.
Millennia. That’s thousands of years. Thousands upon thousands. All of this to engage in hunting and gathering activities; this physical prowess developed to garner food and live another day. And it hasn’t been until recently, relatively, that human society has become sedentary:
“In comparison with the millennial pace of genetic evolution, human technological and social evolution has occurred at light speed. This incongruence has left us genetically adapted for the demands of life as a forager in the wild despite the fact that we are living in a high-tech, sedentary, overfed, emotionally-stressed 21st century world.”1
Survival in this society hinges on your ability to make money rather than gather and hunt. As a result, thousands upon thousands of years of movement-developed physique are squandered, and in the worst possible way. Your body is primed for movement, honed to a finely tuned machine of such fascinating power, wasting away in a chair for 8 to 10 hours a day–unless, of course, you work in an industry that requires movement. Even then, you’re often not getting the kind of movement your body needs to remain supple, strong, and flexible. While your brain is wired to conserve energy, your body is wired to move, and move often. As a result, the instinct to conserve energy works against you:
“Similar to the case where bone and muscle, when relieved from the strain of resisting gravity, grow atrophied and weak, a human being, when unchained from the highly variable and physically taxing daily chores that were required of the hunter-gather lifestyle and instead relegated to an indoor overfed sedentary existence, becomes ridden with disease and debility.”1
Your musculoskeletal system is designed to combat gravity. Muscles line your bones and are set in a series of levers to facilitate balance and movement. And they require active use in order to work properly and efficiently. In Progress, Don’t Regress, I touch on the fact that natural physiological processes work to find the path of least resistance. Left to your own devices, without any inclination to move, your brain will simply let you rot. Over and above the obvious–who wants to rot?–this is problematic. Living sedentary creates a host of problems beyond obesity. In Heart Rate Variability: Finding the Pulse On Your Emotions and MVMNT and Neurogenesis: Maintaining and Rebuilding the Brain, there is ample documentation in the references to show that a lack of movement affects your psychological health as well:
“The immediate effects of the conflict between the Paleolithic constitution of man and the exigencies of modern life can be documented by chemical, physiological, and psychological measurements, but little is known of their long-range consequences. There is no doubt, however, that many physiological disturbances have their origin in the conflict between the modern environment and the Paleolithic ordering of physiological functions.”2
The prognosis is clear: you were made to move. And move often. Knowing this, what will it take you to get moving? To keep moving? Will you look for programs that will push you to move? Will you seek out opportunities to use this fascinating vessel in ways that are more in line with your ancestors? Will you find the motivation within to do so? Your willingness to answer these questions and act on them will determine how your overall psychophysiological health continues to develop. So choose, and act.
1O’Keefe, J. H., Vogel, R., Lavie, C. J., & Cordain, L. (2011). Exercise like a hunter-gatherer: a prescription for organic physical fitness. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21545934.
2Logan, A. C., Katzman, M. A., & Balanzá-Martínez, V. (2015, March 10). Natural environments, ancestral diets, and microbial ecology: is there a modern “paleo-deficit disorder”? Part II. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4353476/.
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