Speaking of a “good poisoning” — many of us in the modern world don’t realize that most exercise is a form of stress.
The mantra of western civilization is “more exercise is always good”. We are constantly bombarded with this message. Most of us believe it, regardless of the degree to which we put it into practice ourselves.
The truth is that exercise heavily affects the nervous system, and breaks down the tissues in the body which causes inflammation. This is especially true for endurance activities like marathon running or triathlons, as well as hypertensive workouts — even more so when we are already stressed from our busy lives. And let’s not forget that all physiological benefits of exercise come from the rest afterward.
In fact, the act of exercising is totally unnatural.
If you were to travel back in time and ask a “caveman” to go jogging with you, they wouldn’t understand what you were talking about — they just ran ten miles to hunt down a woolly mammoth, then pushed and dragged pieces of it back to camp. Now they won’t lift a finger until they absolutely have to — they certainly won’t go “jogging” in weird-looking shoes and spandex with you!
In nature, there is always a clear motivation to expend calories — to hunt, gather, find shelter — or to learn, play, and socially bond. And guess what? We are still part of nature. We still need motivation to activate ourselves and expend calories.
Giving yourself strict orders to move for X minutes per day goes against your biological programming.
Despite this fact, we have let the same depressing theme that ruins our happiness on a societal level trickle down to our exercise habits; we are stuck on the hamster wheel of our careers and busy lives, spending most of our time scrunched up in an office, then we drag ourselves to a dark gym only to jump on yet another hamster wheel (a.k.a the treadmill). No wonder we’d rather sit on the couch and watch TV.
Most of us won’t start living in the wild and spend calories on hunting and building shelters any time soon. That’s just not the life most people want to live anymore. And exercising “to be healthy” is often too abstract a reason after a long day at the office.
We can, however, find several motivations to move in order to learn, play, and socially bond!
We need to play more, and exercise less.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy going to the gym. But when I go to the gym, I don’t jump on the treadmill. I do different exercises every time. I am fluid in reps and sets (I do what feels right). I try new things. I mostly use my body weight to work out and I never use any muscle group in isolation.
I always prefer to go skiing, climbing, or hiking over “exercising” in the more rigid sense.
It comes down to one simple definition:
Play = practicing functional movements for the real world.
This can be done by mimicking functional movements in the gym, or by actually performing them in the real world (a.k.a. living).
Examples of activities I personally consider play:
- Rock climbing
- Functional gym workouts
Many of these activities also give me a strong social component. I learn new ways to move my body together with friends who love to do the same thing. At my climbing gym, some people come there even on rest days. Their motivation is not even the “exercise” itself — they just want to hang out!
What you don’t use, you lose
One last thing to keep in mind. Your body is a complicated and interconnected mechanical, electrical and chemical system. It is dependent on all parts working well — together.
Joints and ligaments must move to retain their range of motion. Muscle tissue is expensive to maintain and must be used — otherwise, your body will not keep it.
Many popular activities today — running, biking, etc. — are unilateral and monotonous. They don’t engage more than a handful of muscle groups and joints. On top of this, most of us sit in the same position all day. The result is often that we overuse some muscle groups and neglect many others.
- When was the last time you fully squatted, all the way down so your butt touches your heels? Can you do that?
- When was the last time you engaged your whole body to climb on top of something?
- When was the last time you jumped as high as you possibly could?
- When was the last time you balanced your way across somewhere you could actually fall down from and hurt yourself?
Asking these types of questions can open up the door to a whole new way of looking at “exercise” in your life.