The Simple Guide to Optimal Health & Fitness
Aim for natural, full-body movement.
"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." -Theodosius Dobzhansky
Editor's note: This is a guest post from Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple.
As wild animals with massive brains and the ability to respond to sensory stimuli with more than just base instinctual behavior, we humans have the tendency to overthink pretty much, well, everything.
Don't blame yourself. You can't escape your head. It's always there.
Everything you perceive or ponder is filtered through a dense network of constantly firing neural synapses. And whether you're a strict materialist who thinks it's all meaty wiring and circuitry up there, or you're of the opinion that consciousness exists independently of your physical brain, we're stuck with that consciousness filter – whatever its origin. It's a blessing and a curse. Technology and science begat both the Internet and the atom bomb, after all. Or, both Youtube and the Youtube comments section.
Our hyper-consciousness often separates us from our surroundings. It erects a barrier that severs the pleasure and immediacy of visceral experience. Imagine the bird watcher who spots a rare woodpecker and immediately buries his nose in his bird ID handbook to confirm the find. The bird flies away. He gets to add a bird to his logbook, but he missed out on seeing a rare animal peck for grubs, stretch its glorious wings, and take flight in search of the next tree. Does a checkmark in a bird logbook compare to the memory of a majestic feathered beast? Ever take a literature course that was so chock full of analysis and essays that you were never able to actually enjoy the great books you were reading? Ever go to the movies with that guy who simply cannot suspend an ounce of disbelief and won't shut up about the admittedly glaring plot hole the entire ride home? Seeking a deeper understanding of a fascinating and important subject is one thing; over-analysis is another entirely, and it can remove us from the enjoyment of a pleasurable pastime.
Human health and physical fitness are important, crucial things to consider, and millions find them fascinating subjects to discuss, analyze, and optimize. I'm one of them. Millions more overanalyze; they make things harder than they need to be, and they generally get poorer results in the long run. Or, they may get objectively good results, but their lives are consumed by the minutiae of calories, miles, reps, and nutrient counting. I'd say there's got to be an easier way to do things. There has to be a path that utilizes our big brains without them getting in the way. There's got to be a balanced, rational method to obtain optimal health and fitness that successfully marries our tendency to think with our animal instincts. Getting fit and being healthy should be simplistic, intuitive, and, most importantly, enjoyable.
Does wildlife obsess over calories eaten or reps performed? How do deer maintain their trim figures and impressive athleticism without a dietitian and weekly personal training sessions? Conversely, why does the house cat grow obese and lethargic, while a bobcat with nearly identical genes stays fit? It isn't just the simplistic calories in/calories out model. It couldn't be. Wild animals don't count calories. They don't worry about eating before bed, or getting enough exercise to burn off that squirrel they had for breakfast. They just are. They simply exist in an ecosystem hundreds of thousands of years in the making. Evolution has made sure, by its impartial, unconscious hand, that the flora and fauna live in harmony with each other and internally. The bobcat thrives on rodents and small birds because its digestive system and metabolism evolved eating these things; the house cat gets fat because its digestive system and metabolism aren't suited for grain-based kibble. If the balance is upset in a given environment, organisms die out or move on, but things always reset. This is simply how nature works. When thinking about how to optimize our health and physical fitness, perhaps we should consider how animals do it – and how our ancestors did it.
We're animals – no one disputes that. We are subject to evolution and natural selection – that one's a bit more controversial, but it's true nonetheless. If you keep those two facts in mind while noting the lesson of the fit, lean bobcat, a thread begins to emerge. Shouldn't the same concept hold true for us? Isn't there an evolutionarily suitable, effortless lifestyle for us humans, too?
There is, and I call it the Primal Blueprint. It eschews complicated workout regimens, tedious calorie counting, and weight loss gimmicks. My Primal laws are based on a rock solid foundation: evolutionary biology and anthropology mixed with modern human ingenuity. I take what worked for tens of thousands of years throughout human prehistory and incorporate contemporary science to confirm its veracity. When you go back and look at the fossil records of our hunter-gatherer, pre-agricultural ancestors, you find that they were healthy, strong, and largely free of degenerative diseases – especially compared to the health of post-agricultural and even modern humans.
The result is an incredibly simple, incredibly effective way to live, move, and eat: eat the things our ancestors ate, get the amount of sleep our ancestors used to get, and make the same movements our ancestors used to make before agriculture.
If you take anything from this post remember these two action items:
1. The ideal human diet should consist of only whole, unprocessed foods – meat, fish, fowl, plants, fruits, and nuts. Whatever you can kill, pick, or dig up and eat on the spot. This is what your ancestors ate and what your body is meant to consume.
2. By the same token, the best exercise consists of natural, full-body movements – lifting heavy things, sprinting, walking, swimming, hiking, climbing, crawling. This is how your ancestors moved and how your body is meant to function.
The results of following these simple rules are numerous and almost immediate:
- The weight melts off, if you have some to lose, or added muscle appears, if you could stand to gain a few pounds.
- You reset your taste buds. Sugar becomes cloying; processed industrial vegetable oil tastes unnatural.
- You realize you don't need grains, beans, and potatoes to feel full.
- You crave real food, and you realize that real food tastes good – better than anything you could find on a convenience store shelf and more satisfying than anything in a fast food restaurant. Hunger no longer dictates that you eat every few hours.
- You get stronger and faster, sure, but you learn to move again. You regain lost mobility.
- You get sick less often as your immune system begins to function more effectively.
- You take pleasure in real movement and become more confident in your own skin.
- Eating and moving becomes intuitive, easy and fun.
- The world becomes your gym. Can't make it to the weight room? Pick up a rock, toss it a couple times, pull your own body weight, then go running in the park. As long as you can manipulate your own body weight, you're strong enough.
Man is an opportunist above anything else. We love the easy way out, but we tend to make fitness and nutrition so incredibly complicated. Just cut out the foods we've only been eating for a few hundred generations (and do eat the things we've been eating for thousands of generations), drop the ridiculous fitness contraptions to focus on natural movements, and streamline your health. And don't be afraid to turn off that big brain every once in awhile.
Read more from Mark Sisson at his popular blog, Mark's Daily Apple, or check out his new book, The Primal Blueprint.