Routine-The Modern Day Invisible Epidemic
I run every other day. There is a 2 mile path that starts across the street from my house. The perfectly level asphalt is consistent and each dip and rise in elevation has become the starting and stopping points for my intervals.
When it rains, I can head down to the gym and hop on the treadmill. I wear the same shoes that I use when running outside and I can even set my speed to a pace similar to my outside runs.
The days in between runs, I hit the circuit training stations at the gym so that I can get my strengthening in. My doctor says that strength training is going to keep me healthy. I listen, she went to school a lot longer than i did.
Flexibility. Super important right? Well I do yoga for mobility on Tuesday and Thursday nights. My instructor is awesome. He studied in India for a month with a yoga guru. We spend a lot of time lengthening “tight” muscles, especially my lower back and glutes.
This would be an average week of activity. I may throw a bike ride in on Saturday mornings from time to time for some extra caloric burn and cardiovascular improvement.
So what’s wrong with this picture?!
Nothing. I feel great. How could doing all this exercise be bad for me?
Hold that question.
Let’s talk about all the other routines that we encounter in a modern western culture.
You wake up on your pillow top mattress, one that conforms to your body, offering minimal variety in sleep surface, and more times than not, you wake up in a fetal position( a position that looks quite similar to sitting ).
You get out of bed, head to the bathroom and begin your morning ritual. Sitting on a chair to go to the bathroom, then shower and head to breakfast.
Here you reach for the cereal bowl in the same cabinet it is always in, then reach for the milk on the right hand side of the fridge. No, it didn’t move to a new location. You will be doing this everyday for the rest of your life. 365 times a year.
You then grab your stuff for the workday and slip your shoes on to head to the car for work. In the car you will be greeted with another soft comfortable chair. You will sit in this position as you drive to work, as you do most days of the year.
If you have a sweet job, your desk will be a standing desk, and you have a stability ball to sit on when your legs get tired. So 6 hours of standing in one place, and 2 hours of sitting on the same surface. Routine again. But wait, standing desks are good for me. Remember the title of this section- routine.
Work day over, head to the house to get your House of Cards binge on. Gotta knock out 3 of them tonight so I can talk about it with my coworkers tomorrow. 3 hours on the couch.
Are you seeing the trend here?
But you workout, you’ll be fine.
Or will you?
The routine of our ancestors–the ones that we share 100% of our genetics with. The ones that survived in nature, not in a shoe box. This routine was far from routine. In a culture where we are safe and have modern comforts, we rarely have to survive. Our ancestors who lived in a natural world were on the earth significantly longer than our modern human counterparts.
Genetically speaking, our human ancestors adapted to survive in a harsh environment. These genetic traits adapted over 100’s of thousands of years in order to give us the physical attributes to deal with whatever nature could throw at us, and if you have ever watched Naked and Afraid, then that is a small glimpse into what ancient cultures considered routine. Our bodies could handle strenuous tasks, not just for 1 hour, but often times all day long.
Everyday is a new set of challenges for humans living in nature. Food is the first order of business. Can’t stop at Moes to grab a burrito. In natural environments, usually the burrito is hard to find. Going out and hunting or gathering will be a constantly shifting set of variables. These variables include season of the year, geographical location, daily weather patterns, other predators, terrain and distance traveled. For example, it could be spring time and there are deer gathering in a local meadow. Time to hunt. To contrast this, you may need to dig up some tubers because it’s fall now and winter is coming. Food will be extra scarce then. Nothing is guaranteed in a natural world when it comes to survival.
That is the difference in modern versus ancient culture.
Things are more guaranteed now. Food is obviously available more readily. Shelter is generally consistent and safe from the dangers of nature. Our culture is one that can be routine and you can live a long and healthy life. We live a lot longer than our ancestors. These modern conveniences and routines have allowed doctors and scientists to increase life spans with modern medicine and research into anti-aging. Our brains adapted to living in a harsh world but giving us the mental skills to communicate, learn, teach, and advance our society exponentially over the past 10000 years.
When did modern routine begin?
The cradle of civilization was called mesopotamia. Many historians believe this fertile area between the Tigris and Euphrates river in modern day Iraq is where humans started modern day farming practices. Once humans could begin growing their own food, we could now settle in towns and begin doing what modern humans do. We could eat regularly, we could be work in a trade other than hunting, gathering or farming, and we could start at being a bit more routine.
Since the dawn of civilization, we have rapidly ( in terms of evolution ) altered our lifestyle. In the past 100 years, we can see an even more dramatic shift in our daily activities. The modern human can literally sleep, eat, work, exercise, and relax all in the comfort of modern habitats. There are some professions, where you never have to leave you chair in your own home. With this shift in human culture, you can see how the routine has become ever so pervasive.
Please do not take this modernization as a negative thing. With computer technology, space exploration and medical advances; we live longer, learn more and are not in fear of nature to the extent our ancestors must have been. These great strides humans have made in making our lives easier are both a blessing and a burden. It seems we have overlooked the burden when it comes to the routine that we find ourselves being a part of every day.
Routine in Man-Made world. Consistent variety in a natural world.
Consistent variety. Variety in movement is paramount for functioning pain free for a majority of your life. The human body is one of the most dynamic organic systems in the universe. Like our mammal counterparts, we are made up of complex systems of levers and pulleys. Our muscles and fascia combine to allow us to produce force to lift and drag very large objects, or to sprint away from danger. These systems of force production and elasticity can help us scale a tree for food or pull a loved one to safety.
These interactions of joint movements, body stabilization, and speed of muscle contraction are best illustrated when watching the varieties of sports and activities humans excel in. Just think of all the different olympic sports that we compete in. Rowing a boat, running 26 miles, swimming for miles, diving from 30 plus feet in the air, gymnastics involving backflips and hand springs, and javelin tossing are all amazing feats of performance that illustrate the variety in complex human movement. These are just a few examples of the thousands of different sports humans participate in. This does not even include the movements involved in work related activities and hobbies humans perform on any given day.
Routine begins at your feet. We live in a world, where a majority of the surfaces we stand and walk on are level and consistent. Concrete sidewalks, laminate floors, tile bathrooms, running tracks perfectly flat, and carpets covering level cement. On top of this we cover our feet in a soft cast that turns muscles off and gives us more “support” even though we are in need very little of it on such an even terrain.
Terrain. That’s synonymous with natural surfaces. When you get away from the man made world of streets and sidewalks, you begin to get a little apprehensive about where you stand and walk. Is there a divot in the grass? Will I step in a hole and twist my ankle. Will that boulder i’m standing on shift and cause me to fall. We have become so far removed from natural surfaces that we seek out flat even surfaces to walk on, build walkways through nature, and avoid running in the grass by staying on the “safe” consistent surface. I would argue that these “safe areas” are beginning a trend that will or probably already has started a cycle which causes movement dysfunction, compensatory brain-to-muscle wiring patterns, and chronic pain or injury.
How is walking on a safe flat surface hurting you?
The variety in natural terrain is constantly changing. If you have ever walked on the beach barefoot, you know how every step you take is different from the last. Each step changes the angle of all the joints in your foot and ankle. Each step asks all of the complex muscles and fascia in your foot to adapt to a different set of physics. Once you get used to the angle of the coastline, then the sand texture changes and once again, your feet adapt. This is constantly changing and stimulating the connections between the lower body and your brain’s movement centers. These varieties in movements, positional changes, and physics are night and day compared to wearing supportive shoes while walking through the mall.
Mix it up. Constantly. You will stimulate new brain centers which will make you smarter. You will alter the physics that shape your body into a natural human, not a modern day shaped human. Modern shaped humans are in pain a lot. They also stop moving because of the pain. If we were in pain in nature, we would keep moving and eventually heal, or get eaten. Now we can chase Pokemon from a golf cart while drinking a beer, when we are in pain. Gotta love modern life. Just add a little ancient life and watch the magic happen!
ATC and Founder of Best Day Fitness