Do you believe you need to suffer to be fit and healthy?
Growing up, I thought being healthy was all about training hard and restricting myself from bad foods.
Despite my best efforts, I consistently found out that willpower is a finite resource.
I would be of top of my health for a while - restricting myself, doing all the 'right things' but sooner of later I would get fed up, lazy and ignore my health until I’d feel guilty and have to get my act together again.
Then the get healthy – get lazy – feel guilty – get healthy cycle would repeat.
When I was 19, I discovered a blog called 'Mark's Daily Apple' - where the author was advocating an ancestral approach to health and fitness. I was skeptical but intrigued enough to buy his book - the Primal Blueprint.
When I apply the ideas in this book to my own life, everything gets easier. I feel energised, productive and full of life on a day to day basis. It gives me consistent control of my diabetes and I've been able to reduce my daily insulin intake from 30 units, to 3.
This book helped me realise that health was not something that requires huge amounts of self-discipline and willpower.
It's actually our natural state when we live the way we are designed to.
In this post I’m going to summarise the three main reasons why I decided to try it out in my own life.
If you're serious about your health and fitness, but find yourself going through get healthy - get lazy - feel guilty cycles as I had been doing, then it could be worth exploring for you.
WE HAVE CAVEMAN GENES
'Our genes are suited for a hunter-gatherer existence, because that is how we Homo Sapiens have evolved and spent the great majority of our time on earth.'
The first thing to realise is that we have the same genes as our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Genetic adaptations take around 25,000 years to develop in humans.
And because agriculture only began 10,000 years ago, this means we are genetically identical to our primal ancestors, and therefore designed for a completely different way of life.
It's almost as if our biology hasn't caught up with our technology.
The two hundred years that we've lived in cities, and the ten thousand years we were farmers, are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of years we were hunter gatherers.
To illustrate this, if you represented the entire history of the human race on a 24 hour time period, we were hunter gatherers for 23 hours and 53 minutes, and became farmers with 6 minutes left in the day - at 11:54pm.
Therefore, to understand our own health - a great place to start is by examining how our ancestors lived.
HUNTER GATHERERS WERE HEALTHY
'Our Primal ancestors were likely stronger and healthier than we are today.'
The main argument against this approach is that most hunter gatherers died in their mid-thirties.
In the UK today, the average life expectancy is eighty-one.
So why would we possibly want to learn from people we outlive by almost fifty years?
However, when you examine the primary causes of the death back then, their low average life expectancy starts to make sense. Deaths during childbirth, infections, and tribal warfare account for many of the early deaths of our ancestors.
But most of all, it was minor accidents that killed off many of our ancestors.
For example, if you fell and broke your ankle as a caveman, you became easy lunch for a bear or a tiger. A mundane injury to us – such as an ankle sprain, was a death sentence to them.
In fact, fossil records show that early humans who could avoid fatal misfortune could live to be as old as 94. Many members of the Ache tribe in Paraguay (modern hunter gatherers) live well into their eighties.
Think about this for a second. These people had no medicine, healthcare or surgery of any kind. They had a lifelong struggle for food, clothing and shelter - yet many of them lived well into their 80s.
Obviously, they were doing something right.
On top of this, they had bigger brains, and were taller than us (height is linked to a population's health and good childhood nutrition.)
A growing body of evidence seems to suggest that if early man could avoid accidents, predators and illnesses, he lived a long, healthy and productive life.
GENES ARE PROGRAMMABLE
'Instead of falling victim to your genetic vulnerabilities, you can control how your genes express themselves in constantly rebuilding, repairing and renewing your cells.'
After learning that hunter gatherers were healthy, and that we have the same genes as them, the third thing to realise is that genes control the functioning of every single cell in your body.
Because genes control cell function, and you are a collection of approximately 50 trillion cells, your overall health is dependent on your genes.
We used to think that genes were hereditary and self determining - something you just had based on your family history and could do nothing about.
We now know that genes are not self determining. They do not switch on or off by themselves, but are triggered by signals they receive from their environment.
In other words, our lifestyle behaviours and eating choices (the environment) influence which genes get turned on or off.
Therefore, it is up to us to follow lifestyle habits that promote optimal gene expression and avoid those with negative outcomes.
According to the author, the best way to trigger optimal gene expression, is to model the behaviours of our primal ancestors.
This approach has worked for me, and for hundreds of others, because these lifestyle habits are actually easy, natural and fun to follow, and take suffering out of the health and fitness equation.
All the evidence seems to suggest that our genes are designed for a hunter gather existence.
And we now know these people were healthy, productive and lived long lives (without healthcare) if they could avoid accident, predator or illness along the way.
Therefore, because genes control our overall health, and we know that we can reprogram them through our behaviour, does it not make sense to reintegrate the behaviours of our primal ancestors into modern day life?
This way you can enjoy the health and fitness you are naturally designed for, without having to worry about finding a cave to sleep in, or being dinner for a bear in the evening.
The Primal Blueprint is your best guide for doing just that.