In the battle to stay fit and healthy do you ever find yourself working against your best interests, sometimes sabotaging your own efforts? I know I do. It might be a…
In the battle to stay fit and healthy do you ever find yourself working against your best interests, sometimes sabotaging your own efforts? I know I do. It might be a sneaky sausage roll from Greggs or simply lounging on the sofa when I know we should be taking the last opportunity of the day to get some exercise.
I don’t think I’m alone in this though. Most of the readers of this magazine know what we should be doing, yet resolutely sticking with good habits turns out to be so much trickier than making quick resolutions for self-improvement. This can be quite discomforting. As humans, we like to think we have the qualities of free will and self-determination. After all, we’re not animals, devoid of the power of self-awareness and rational thought.
But of course, we are animals. We conveniently forget that we are human animals. It’s so easy to see that our animal cousins have certain built-in responses that cause them to act predictably in a variety of circumstances. Salmon will swim upstream to spawn at a precise time of the year; most animals will fight anything that threatens their offspring; a cuckoo chick will always try to push its ‘siblings’ out of the nest to their deaths. It’s almost like they are acting out a script written hundreds of thousands of years ago, working through their factory programming. Nobody blames these animals for any of these actions – they are just playing out the instincts that nature built into them.
One such human example is when we find ourselves reaching for yet another slice of chocolate cake even though we made a solemn promise to ourselves only yesterday that we wouldn’t do this.
All too easily we find ourselves acting against our own interests in a compulsive, almost self destructive way. Our willpower, our freedom and our ability to control our destiny is just over-ridden in the presence of certain stimuli. Thousands of years ago these impulsive, instinctual actions were undoubtedly the right ones for our natural environment. Without them we would have certainly perished.
Going back to basics
By simply becoming aware of these instincts, you can start to respect them more – and look for ways to defend them against deliberate exploitation by technology, advertising and big business that only have their own interests at heart. Like an unsuspecting fish hooked on a lure more appealing than its natural prey, we fall for the artificially attractive offerings served up – not for our wellbeing – but for the wellbeing of those profit-driven big businesses.
Our challenge as health conscious individuals is to take these unchangeable human instincts and reharness them to new, healthy habits based on natural ways of living in ways that align with our evolutionary history.
INSTINCT: Rest whenever possible
The world we live in today offers us few of the physical challenges of the natural environment. Our jobs, daily chores and even our leisure activities offer up little requirement to be active, leaving our inherit desire to rest and relax whenever we can do woefully out of balance.
Solution: Build movement into your day and rest enough to feel relaxed.
INSTINCT: Eat whatever is available and tastes good
In a modern context this edict is disastrous. Modern, processed food is designed to titillate the palate and over-stimulate the brain’s pleasure receptors in a way that natural food doesn’t. The chemical reactions elicited in the brain set up a chemical dependency and psychological addiction that that fires up the same areas of the brain as hard drugs.
Solution: Only fill your house with natural food and don’t even visit the supermarket aisles that sell modern Frankenstein foods.
INSTINCT: Put on weight whenever possible
Our ancient relatives’ craving for calories was essential for survival because they could never be sure when the next meal was coming.
Solution: Avoid heavily processed carbohydrate, the macronutrient that is most responsible for the obesity epidemic. Additional muscle you develop burns fat through the day and is one of your best defences against frailty, ill health and obesity.
INSTINCT: Wake up when it’s light and sleep when dark
The advent of artificial light entices us to stay awake late into the night allured by TV and the internet. Where we were once relaxed, rested and alert, many of us are now buzzing and ‘wired’ – or dead on our feet.
Solution: Go to bed when you first start to get tired between 9-11pm. Sleep with the curtains open and wake up slowly and naturally when the morning light streams into your bedroom. Avoid excessive time spent in front of a screen as this will affect your ability to sleep deeply and wake rested.
INSTINCT: Copy the posture and movement of those around us
Today our naturally balanced bodies are contorted and pained by modern furniture, sedentary living and the exaggerated swagger, stoop or gait of culturally prominent stereotypes.
Solution: Look for better role models – like some athletes and non-westerners who still move with the grace and poise that we all should.
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