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The hamster wheel of human well-being

The hamster wheel of human well-being

I’ve become fascinated with studies and lifestyle changes focused on longevity and biohacking. A few recent “revolutionary health and wellness suggestions” made me realize our cave dwelling ancestors already had everything figured out.

Other than inventions like the wheel, penicillin, various vaccines, water filtration and modern dental care, much of what we consider innovative or progressive could actually be negatively impacting our well-being. 

To put it simply, we are spoiling our bodies and minds to a degree that is harming us. A number of studies indicate that for optimal physical and mental fitness, our genetic code demands challenges to the cells, challenges that stimulate the expression of “survival genes” that encode for proteins to enhance the ability of the cells to withstand oxidative and metabolic stress. 

Essentially, actions that positively stress our bodies and minds (rigorous exercise, eating less and mostly plants, cold water immersion, walking barefoot outside, spiritual awakening, being forced to move with the cycles of nature) keep us alive longer. 

In terms of movement or lack thereof, the new adage is, “Sitting is the new smoking.” The modern lifestyle of sitting most of the day, snacking on processed foods and looking at screens is killing us prematurely. Conversely, the benefits of routine exercise are limitless. Our ancestors were required to move all day to find/harvest food, avoid predators, secure their habitat, take care of young ones and make tools and other household items. We’ll never go back to that exact way of life, but adopting activities like gardening, yard work, DIY projects and dog walking are simple things to implement movement throughout the day aside from a formal exercise routine.  

Regarding food, research suggests we should only eat until we’re 80% full and focus primarily on plant-based foods. According to a meta-analysis on this subject by the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and published in the “Journal of Gastroenterology,” restriction of calories can slow down aging and prolong life span in 60 percent of experimental animals. 

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Eating too much food requires our organs to secrete extra hormones and enzymes to break the food down. When breaking the food down, the stomach produces hydrochloric acid, which backs up into the esophagus resulting in heartburn. More and more research supports a way of eating that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages dairy products, meat and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. 

Recent research also shows that breathing through our noses has positive benefits for all bodily systems. The nose, as opposed to the mouth, evolved specifically for breathing. Our ancestors had wider noses and bigger nostrils which promoted nose breathing but as the structure of the human face shifted, we started breathing more out of our mouths which can cause issues.

Breathing through the nose lets the body take in the proper amount of oxygen for the body’s needs. Air is filtered when inhaled through the nose and therefore possesses less irritants and allergens. When the mouth is closed, the tongue and jaw remain in the correct position and therefore allow the facial bones and muscles to develop correctly, resulting in straighter teeth. Breathing through the mouth dries out the oral cavity which can cause tooth decay. Inhaling and exhaling through the nose slows down overall breathing which is optimal for all bodily systems, including the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Breathing through the mouth promotes short, shallow breathing which can impact the body as if we were hyperventilating. 

Moving in sync with Mother Nature is another way to mimic our ancestors. Something as simple as exposing your skin to the first light of each day can offer monumental benefits to your well being. Intentional sun exposure in the first 30 to 60 minutes after waking up can increase alertness, boost mood, lower stress, and improve sleep quality. This time of day also offers a boost of vitamin D with much less UV intensity than later in the day. There are other ways to move with Mother Nature, such as being outside as much as possible, noticing the moon phases, and eating with the seasons.

Additional cave dwelling ways to consider are focusing on tribes and community, medicinal plants, intentional quiet time and storytelling. Even though technology and innovation make our lives easier and more efficient, they don’t make them more joyful or healthier. Instead of primarily focusing on history in terms of wars, declarations, kingdoms and architecture, let’s also study the history of mankind’s way of life in terms of caring for our bodies and the planet. With minimal external help, our ancestors honed in on what felt right internally and with the earth. Now these same methods are resurfacing as new-age remedies. Maybe one day we’ll pause the hamster wheel, step off and enjoy the boundless pleasures of what we already know.

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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