Our ancestors had it hard. They were likely often hungry and cold. They hunted and gathered to get what they could to survive. They had to weather storms, floods, fluctuations in climate. They were likely bruised and battered most days keeping up camp, moving camp as needed, and doing what they had to without the use of motorized tools, heavy equipment, or even gloves.
Our ability to adapt has allowed us to live in every climate, manage every terrain, and not just survive across the entire world, but thrive. One of our greatest attributes as humans is our body’s ability to recognize where and when our body’s need to change, and then it embarks on changing. And it does this without us having to even think about it or be conscious of it.
Take your hands, for example. When you start to lift weights, or start doing yardwork in the spring, your hands are soft. They will be sore and ache the first few times you use them. Blisters may form in areas where you rubbed the skin raw. That does not feel good.
Your body gets to work to repair the damaged skin. It recognizes that your skin is too soft and thin. So, what does it do? It not only fixes the damaged skin, but repairs it with thicker, tougher skin. Over time, as you continue using your hands for physical work, the body continues to toughen up the skin, with calluses, so that you can lift more, work harder, and withstand tougher activities.
A word worth knowing is hormesis. Hormesis is defined as “a phenomenon in which a harmful substance gives stimulating and beneficial effects to living organisms when the quantity of the harmful substance is small.” A body that is exposed to periodic adversity gets stronger. Removing all difficulties and struggles leads to weakness and vulnerability. There’s a reason a baby picks stuff off the floor and puts it into its mouth. By exposing their systems to small amounts of bacteria, the body engages its immune system, forms new antibodies, and bolters the strength of that system. We now know that kids that go through daycare have stronger immune systems than kids who do not. Their exposure to all those germs toughens them up and makes their immune systems stronger, leading to less vulnerability later in life to colds, flus, and other pathogens.
With most people striving to make life as easy as possible, we have gotten weaker and weaker. Many Americans are completely sedentary (20%). We know that the advent of mechanized farming reduced our daily activity by a lot, and the invention of the remote control allowed people to stay on the couch, not even having to get up to change the channel. And now with voice commands, we won’t even have to use our hands. It’s pretty ridiculous if you think about it. We have a plethora of restaurants, so we don’t have to cook, food delivery services, so we don’t even have to get out and go to the restaurants, automatic garage door openers, washing machines, dishwashers, and now the ability to have meetings and work from computers, preventing many from having to ever leave the house.
This is why we have to consciously create challenges and adversity to continue growing and getting stronger. This is the theory behind newer trends in the wellness space, such as whole body cryotherapy, infrared saunas, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, intermittent fasting, and even exercise itself. These things all create a stress on the body, triggering pathways and mechanisms that bolster our overall health. Creating enough stress on the body to trigger a response, without causing too much harm, leads to improved health, stamina, and vitality.
I have two recommendations. First, stop trying to make your life so easy. Don’t avoid hard, physical work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, skip meals and be hungry once in a while, get your hands dirty, and allow yourself to be cold or hot from time to time.
Second, dabble with some of the biohacks that are now readily available. Cold exposure has profound effects on overall health (cold plunges and whole body cryotherapy). Exposure to high heat triggers a bunch of health-promoting factors (saunas and hot tubs). Putting your body through varied intensity exercise builds muscle, strengthens bones, and improves your heart-health (HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training).
The old saying… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… is TRUE! Why? Because if your body senses stress, pain, and adversity, it goes into overdrive to improve you. It does this so that when exposed to that same adversity, you do so with less risk and are better able to tolerate and live through it. So, get out there… don’t kill yourself… but make yourself stronger.