We are on a never-ending quest to make life as easy as possible. It seems like we spend a ton of time and energy inventing new ways to ease the burden of life. At first thought, that makes sense. After all, it’s great that we don’t have to be in a field tilling up dirt with our hands. Thanks to tractors, we can plant and harvest more food, free up a lot of time, and avoid unnecessary wear and tear on our bodies. But this increased ease of life, and the resulting decrease in our physical activity (for the most part), has come at a hefty price.
There are many contributing factors to the boom in chronic disease, but inactivity is at the top of the list. The CDC published a report showing that a whopping 25% of Americans are completely inactive. Yikes! And that inactivity is highly contributory to the diseases that plague us the most, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and depression.
I recently heard someone make the point that as we age, we get less active. No surprise there. But then they said that a big reason for this is that we spend our whole lives striving to make things easier, working to get out of physical work, and incorporate more gizmos, gadgets, and strategies to reduce our workload. As we age, we get better and better at that. So, as we get older, our lives get easier, which actually contributes to faster aging.
Think about this… as we age, our bone density decreases, we lose muscle mass, our immune systems tend to weaken, we accumulate more body fat, and our balance diminishes. Well… bones need to be put under pressure to remain thick and strong… muscles need to be torn and damaged to build up stronger… we must be exposed to bacteria and viruses to boost our immune systems… calories taken in that are not used to build muscle or burned as energy get stored as fat… and if we are not out-and-about, moving around, our ability to respond to uneven ground, inclines or declines in steps, and even gravity fades.
The body operates under a very specific principle… use it, or lose it! Your body is ALWAYS adapting to the environment it is in. It has within it an innate intelligence that works every second of every day to remain stable, strong, and alive. If you sit all day, every day, the body (in its infinite wisdom) decides that you do not need thick bone, large, strong muscles, or good balance. It will not waste energy in those areas because there is no need for those things. The input you give it determines the output it provides.
When an astronaut goes up into space, where there is no gravitational pull, over enough time, they will become osteoporotic (meaning they will lose a lot of bone mass). Why? Because in space, they do not need thick strong bones. Once they return to Earth, hit the ground, have that gravitational pull kick back in, the body instantly starts building bone back up. That’s how the body works.
We have to be careful in our never-ending quest for ease and convenience. I also heard someone say this week that greatness and convenience are often NOT found together. If we want to achieve more, if we want to remain healthy, fit, and strong, and if we want to move into older age with less physical trouble, we need to seek inconvenience. Not only do we need to avoid making life too easy, we must be conscious about choosing tougher paths.
So, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Put yourself with a personal trainer that makes you feel some pain. Choose the broccoli instead of the French fries. Walk or ride a bike instead of driving when able.
The biggest mistake we make with our older population is telling them to stay inside because it’s too cold or too hot; we do their chores for them; we tell them to just rest. These could be the worst things we do.
Stop thinking you’re so frail and vulnerable. There’s a reason our ancestors had less chronic disease than us. Food is big part of it, but making life so easy is just as big. Make things LESS convenient and watch your body and mind get stronger, tougher, and more resilient.