Applying Principles In Evolutionary Biology For Better Performance, Health and Wellbeing

Carefully simulating key aspects of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle may help fix some of the issues unique to modern civilization. By mastering evolutionary logic we can learn how to shift the momentum of unconscious forces acting within the body and mind. Whether it be to move around more effortlessly, remain calm, focus or speed up muscle regeneration, and memory consolidation.

Habits such as functional fitness, thermal exercise, and 16/8 fasting help direct the bodies “automatic” processes in a useful manner. Done at the right time, they can have a complementary effect on your actions throughout the day, allowing for peak performance. All of these new and emerging lifestyle trends have one thing in common – They integrate scientific principles in evolutionary biology.

The idea being that evolution moves throughout time with momentum that when ignored can lead to an array of common physical and mental health disorders. However, when correctly simulated, could unlock reservoirs of potential that may otherwise remain untapped. The best thing about it? The following habits require very little to begin doing yourself. No gimmicks, no subscription, no excuses.

Functional Fitness and Movement Training

Functional fitness and movement training are separate but complementary aspects of a modern day “primordial resurgence”. The aim of this fitness style is to exercise the full range of our anatomical blueprint – especially the parts of the body that are neglected by sitting or laying down, such as the lower back, hips and core. This is done in order to avoid an “Achilles Heel” type injury from muscular imbalance. Which are extremely common (low back pain, injuries to the lower back, hips etc).

Furthermore, functional fitness is all about exercises that translate well to general preparedness, and overall athletic performance i.e. “functional” rather than too build size or sheer strength. The bottom line is that, due to employment specialization, we use a very narrow range of our anatomy in everyday life. The conventional weight-lifting routine is only slightly better, with many “isolation” exercises that move along a narrow plane of resistance.

That’s not to say that some body builders don’t integrate elements of functional fitness but it is relatively rare compared to athletes. Over-time an unbalanced fitness regime can lead to various problems having to with inflammation and muscular imbalance, which may effect the longevity of somebodies career. Alternatively, actions performed in functional fitness are almost exclusively “compound”, and often “multi-planar” movements that use your full body in a wide range of anatomical directions.

Extending across the “Tranverse Plane” for example, is a re-occurring theme in functional fitness. This is akin to a kind of “twisting strength” that is build up from the core and hips. Twisting exercises are almost entirely absent from contemporary body building routines. Twisting across the transverse plane happens to extend very naturally in to martial arts which is why functional fitness is so common among MMA fighters and Special Forces operatives. Another good example of twisting strength across the transverse plane is how well an experienced archer pulls back an arrow, or how a hunter may toss a spear.

Movement training is similar to functional fitness in that it aims to improve the efficiency of the body as a multi-coordinated vessel. It’s different from functional fitness in that it is exclusively calisthenic in nature (using your own body weight) and focused on patterns of movement. The idea is that you should try and move your body around in unique and interesting ways – from different angles, heights and postures.

Famously, this often ends up resembling the locomotion of particular animals (bear, crab, lizard, ape, duck walk etc). There is plenty of cross over between movement training and dance or martial arts, especially Capoiera. It is known for being extremely enjoyable once you balance out the body and get used to the movement patterns you can enter in to a “flow” that is more creative and fun than it is difficult. Movement training is also known for restoring the notion of “play” to full grown adults who may not enjoy exercise otherwise.

This is where we should start thinking about “evolutionary logic” – a way to build up an intuition about health, fitness and lifestyle that considers the impact of deep time (prehistory) on our physical and psychological limitations. The idea is very simple – that which we have done for a longer duration of our evolutionary history has unique benefits so far as health and well-being.

Think about crawling up on prey while hunting or the physiological benefits of extreme temperature and light exposure. Or how about the positive effect of food that we have been eating for much longer than wheat or grain (paleolithic diet). Of course you wouldn’t want to run off in to the woods and live in a cave for ten years so the question is what are some basic actions we can take to leverage this natural evolutionary intelligence while also retaining the comforts of modern day life?

16/8 Fasting

Intermittent fasting as it is currently practiced may be thought of as a kind of “simulated scarcity” that can unlock a reservoir of vitality which would otherwise be inaccessible to us. Evolutionary speaking, this surge of vitality may have allowed the survivor to locate and potentially incapacitate a source of food. In everyday life, it may help us work harder to get the promotion we need, or perform for longer without rest.

For all intents and purposes our civilization may as well be considered “post-scarcity” compared to hunter gatherers in the Paleolithic era, who would regularly go without food for most of the day, or even days at a time.

In the article researchers describe how humans “evolved in environments where food was relatively scarce, they developed numerous adaptations that enabled them to function at a high level, both physically and cognitively, when in a food-deprived/fasted state”

According to the article in question, the continuous digestion of foods throughout the day (many of which we only began eating 10 000 years ago) can lead to a host of “Normal Diet metabolic morbidities” such as insulin resistance, excessive accumulation of visceral fat, etc.

Researchers found that the focus group of participants who continued to fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 displayed “improvements in multiple health indicators including insulin resistance and reductions in risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”

The research team was able to boil down the regenerative effects of fasting to an exact sequence of biological events involving the “activation of adaptive cellular stress response signaling pathways that enhance mitochondrial health, DNA repair and autophagy.”

Other studies (summarized shortly):

Intermittent Fasting in Cardiovascular Disorders—An Overview

Intermittent Fasting Attenuates Increases in Neurogenesis after Ischemia and Reperfusion and Improves Recovery

Long-term effects of very low-carbohydrate diet with intermittent fasting on metabolic profile in a social media-based support group

More coming

Thermal Exercise

The evolutionary logic behind thermal exercise is relatively simple. In the wilderness you often have to deal with unexpected shifts in temperature, humidity and wind speed without the luxury of a well built home to completely shelter you. Having co-evolved with these physiological stressors, certain problems can arise without their regular stimulation.

In other words, the wider range of temperature outside creates a feedback loop of inner heating and cooling that was beneficial – like a shock to the system resulting in increased vitality so long as it wasn’t too prolonged. Certain hormonal and bio-molecular changes that accompany the mammalian dive response for example ensured that you wouldn’t just clam up and die if all of a sudden you got wet and cold outside.

In ancient times this may have given us the energy we needed to swim across a river, catch a fish or make it over a cold and windy mountain ridge before we could return to the fire and regain warmth. In the modern era, who couldn’t use a controlled burst of vitality, regeneration and awareness? This is why little habits such as splashing your face with cold water exist in the first place!

Want to come down and begin regenerating after exercise? Cold water immersion has been proven to slow down heart rate, increase HRV and get you in to the parasympathetic realm of rest and digest a little faster.

“Water immersion is a simple and efficient means of immediately triggering post-exercise parasympathetic activity, with colder immersion temperatures likely to be more effective at increasing parasympathetic activity.

It would make sense then how another study revealed “..cold‐water immersion groups had significantly lower ratings of fatigue.. and potentially improved ratings of physical recovery immediately after the end of cold‐water immersion.”

As far as the other end of the spectrum? – Another research group discovered that taking a sauna can help you more quickly recover strength, at least as far as the “wrist extensor” muscle group they tested.

Other Studies: (summarized shortly)

Physiologic and Perceptual Responses to Cold-Shower Cooling After Exercise-Induced Hyperthermia

Effect of Cold Shower on Recovery From High-Intensity Cycling in the Heat

The Effects of Hot and Cold Shower Baths upon Adolescents Participating in Physical Education Classes

Cardiovascular responses to ice-cold showers

Sauna, shower, and ice water immersion. Physiological responses to brief exposures to heat, cool, and cold. Part II. Circulation


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