The Athlete's Way

Sweat and the biology of bliss

8 Remedies for Longevity

Ancient principles updated for successful modern living

The classic Greeks understood the importance of having a sound mind in a sound body. They built their schools with an equal emphasis on the library and gymnasium-ideally with a nature trail surrounding the buildings so that 'peripatetic' professors could walk and teach students simultaneously. They didn't need modern brain imaging technology to understand that human evolution is directly linked to being a highly efficient aerobic machine with a very large prefrontal cortex--so, they worked to strengthen both simultaneously. In my opinion, modern public policy makers should do the same.

Over the years of sports and competition, I have isolated 8 remedies for longevity based on ancient principles that I have updated for successful modern living. Keeping all 8 of these core-tenets balanced like spokes on a bicycle wheel will allow you to be a trailblazer.  Here are the 8 remedies for longevity:  

1.   Daily Physical Activity: Exercise for at least 20 minutes most days of the week.

2.   Levity & Laughter: Keeping a sense of humor keeps you healthy and youthful.

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3.   Intellectual Curiosity: Spend some time in focused thought, exploring new ideas every day.

4.   Foster Creativity: Challenge your mind to connect unrelated ideas in new and useful ways. 

5.   Human Unity: Create and maintain close-knit human bonds and a social support network. 

6.   Spiritual Connectedness: Identify a Source of inspiration that is bigger than you.

7.   Energy Balance: Balance Calories in/Calories out, and reduce your carbon footprint.

8.   Voluntary Simplicity: Embrace the liberty that comes with wanting and needing less.

I keep these remedies written down on a notecard that I pull out and review in the morning before I start my day. I recommend that you review this checklist daily, too. If you look at this list and feel that you have neglected one of the 8-core tenets, talk to yourself in the third person as a good coach would.

For example: I might say to myself--"Chris, today you should focus on "Human Unity." You've been too isolated. You have to go out and interact with people today." Learn to become your own coach by using a third person inner-voice in your self-talk. In future blogs, I will continue to discuss each of these life-affirming core tenets and give you helpful advice on tackling each one. In the meantime, evaluate how you are doing with these 8 remedies and think of ways that you can make some lifestyle changes.

To find clues for our future, we have to look at our past. Homo sapiens have evolved over millennia based on our ability to stick together, cooperate, and work hard physically. These abilities allowed us to become more creative and intellectually superior to other species.  From the time of being hunters and gatherers to being farmers in an agriculturist society these 8 core tenets remained a part of daily life and were the key to prosperity and longevity for individuals, families, and communities. That all changed with the industrial revolution and continues to erode as we evolve into an information age society.

The past 200 years of lightning fast technological change have been a shock to our system. We often forget how recently modern inventions have re-shaped the way we live our lives. After hundreds of millions of years of basically static technological advancement, everything changed with mind-boggling rapidness in the past two centuries. This has completely shocked our biological make up.

A simple and tactile visual that I find useful for putting human evolution in perspective is that the entire length of your arm would represent human evolution, while the past 200 years would be the white tip of a freshly clipped finger nail. Homo sapiens spent millions of years being hunters and gatherers, then thousands of years as agriculturists and then - "BANG!" - with the invention of the steam engine in 1804 everything changed and the industrial revolution began. The industrial revolution upended ancient connections between a "sound mind and sound body." Our evolutionary traits were turned inside out and upside down and forced to adapt to a completely new way of life.

Here is a quick timeline of major inventions I have compiled to put the rapidity of change into perspective:  The Cotton Gin in 1794, the Steam Engine and Locomotive in 1804, the Bicycle in 1865, the Telephone in 1876, Electrical Power plant in 1882, the production-line Automobile in 1902, the Television in 1927, the Jet Airplane 1943, the ATM 1967, the cell phone in 1973, and the internet in 1983.  It is amazing to realize how recently these changes have occurred considering the first primate fossils date back some 20 million years.  How could we not be future shocked?

"Future Shock" is a term for a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies, introduced by Alvin Toffler in his book of the same name. Toffler's most basic definition of future shock is: "a personal perception of too much change in too short a period of time."  The Future Shock that Alvin Toffler would describe as "too much change in too short a period of time" is causing our minds and bodies to short-circuit. Toffler argued beginning in the 1970s that society was undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from becoming what he called an industrial society to a "super-industrial society." The digital revolution of the past two decades has taken the level of amount change in society to levels that would seem like science fiction in the 1970s. It has thrown our lives out of balance and is shortening our lifespan.

The accelerated rate of technological and social change ultimately leaves us feeling disconnected and suffering from Future Shock, which is a state of "shattering stress and disorientation."  Toffler also coined the phrase "information overload." Spending time in any public space, social situation, or in someone's living room would confirm that we could all benefit from unplugging from our iPhones and laptops.

As hunter-gatherers, the human body evolved to run as the only viable form of transportation over great distances to chase prey and avoid threats. The ability to spring through the air is what sets us apart from primate cousins. This pogo-stick ability of each leg allowed us to travel long distances and to hunt and gather a high protein diet, using relatively little fuel. We are very fuel-efficient machines. As our brains grew, so did our prefrontal cortex, the seat of human intelligence, and we became better hunters. Endurance running is, in fact, unique to homos sapiens among most mammals except for: dogs, horses and hyenas.

Drs. Lieberman and Bramble, paleontologists at Harvard, established that our slender legs, shorter arms, narrower rib cage and pelvis, skulls with overheating prevention features, and the nuchal joint, which keeps our heads steady when we run, set us apart from chimpanzees. Our uniquely huge gluteus maximus (our butts), the biggest muscles in our body, make us able to run. Dr. Lieberman explains, "Your gluteus maximus stabilizes your trunk as you lean forward to run. A run is like a controlled fall and the buttocks help control it." Monkeys don't have butt muscles. The scientists compiled a list during the thirteen-year long study of twenty-six traits that made early homo sapiens better able to prevail that are all specifically connected to running.

Scientists have concluded that running improved our chances of survival and reproduction. Although we were not as swift as our four-legged competitors, we could (and still can) out run and hunt over greater distances than other predators. Lieberman says, "Endurance running may have made possible a diet rich in fats and proteins thought to account for the unique human combination of large bodies, small guts, big brains, and small teeth." It also imbedded the need to stay active into our biology, which is why inactivity causes the minds and bodies of so many to short-circuit in a sedentary digital age.

A person who would go on to be known as the founding father of IBM planted the first seeds of the information age in 1888. That year, Herman Hollerith--who was an American inventor--developed a successful computer, using punched cards and electricity. In 1911, he sold his company--the Tabulating Machine Company, which then became the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. In 1924, the company became IBM. Analog computers were developed in 1930 and the first electronic computer was in use by 1946.

The Digital Revolution was officially born late in 1947 when two Bell Labs scientists invented a transistor that could take electric current, amplify it, and switch it on and off.  By the late 1960s, large companies began using computers. Personal computers were introduced in 1975. Today, microchip transistors and silicon chips are ubiquitous, enabling the storage and transfer of information in digital form. Apple computer is the largest company in America and has more cash on hand than the federal government.  The internet, smart phones, and social media have changed the world and how we interact with one another irrevocably in ways that each of us around the globe live and breathe. Unfortunately, because of this, the most physical activity some get is the use of their thumbs and index fingers on a digital screen.

In his 1950 speech accepting the Nobel Prize -- a speech coined What Desires are Politically Important? -- Bertrand Russell, who was an avid long distance walker, stated:

Our mental make-up is suited to a life of very severe physical labor. I used, when I was younger, to take my holidays walking. I would cover twenty-five miles a day, and when the evening came I had no need of anything to keep me from boredom, since the delight of sitting amply sufficed. But modern life cannot be conducted on these physically strenuous principles. A great deal of work is sedentary, and most manual work exercises on a few specialized muscles. Civilized life has grown altogether too tame, and, if it is to be stable, it must provide the harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied by hunting... More seriously, pains should be taken to provide constructive outlets for the love of excitement. Nothing is more exciting than a moment of sudden discovery or invention, and many more people are capable of experiencing such moments than is sometimes thought.

The recent use of information technology and social media to organize the masses and start revolutions when people feel dissatisfied to the point of taking to the streets has potential to mobilize people and be a 'constructive outlet.' But for many of us, daily life in a cyber world has the power to sap our minds and bodies of their vitality and isolate us from face-to-face interaction and elbow-to-elbow camaraderie.

The cyber world, and the information it provides, is very seductive and tantalizing because it takes zero energy to create and is entertaining to digest. Being creative and challenging your mind and body takes effort. It's easy to be lazy and complacent when all of your creature comforts are taken care of.

Facebook can become a disconnected, vacuous, and lonely social network if you are isolated from other people in day-to-day life--there is no 'there, there' ultimately. What are the consequences to our biology of living in a virtual reality where we don't have to work physically or interact directly with other human beings to stay alive? Are we raising a generation that is being spoon fed too much over-processed everything? Have those of us from the 'analog' generation turned into 'sleep walkers' in a virtual reality? Each of us must work hard to stay connected to each other and to our biology.

Our evolutionary biology is not going to begin speeding up to adapt in tandem with each new generation of the iPhone; so, it is up to each of us to slow down and make an effort to stay grounded in our pre-digital era roots.  Using the 8 remedies for longevity provided here will help you stay rooted in your humanity and help you live a complete and fulfilling life regardless of how lightning fast the technology around us changes the way we live.

Review this checklist daily and focus on keeping all 8 of the tenets balanced. If there is a particular area where you are lagging-for example, "Spiritual Connectedness"... make a conscious effort to seek out fellowship or communion with other people and a Source of inspiration that is larger than you. If your "Energy Balance" is out of whack, ride your bike instead of taking the car and eat a little bit less that day. Keeping these 8 remedies for longevity in check takes conscious effort...but, over time these small daily changes become a lifestyle that will keep you happy and healthy for a long, long time!

 

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.

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