Fitness for the mind. The little predator within us!
Homo sapiens existence extends back more than 200,000 years and approximately 90,000 years after that emerged the first sedentary civilizations. Nevertheless scientists believe the Homo and Panini (chimpanzees) genus split occurred more than 5 million years ago. This means our lifestyle as hunters and gatherers has been immensely far larger than our existence living in complex societies, surviving therefore a greater deal of time by instinct above any other principle. Our current society is far different from how it was thousands of years ago and is subject to a continual process of change, every time more and more rapidly. This brings a giant challenge to the human subsistence, as our genes are not able to keep up such a hectic pace to get adjusted to all the new external needs. As a result of it we often experience high levels of stress and our reaction in certain scenarios do not always deserves the title of ‘human responses’ yet. Is there anything we can do about it?
Genetic adaptation to the environment can take a really long period of time to occur. This is the reason why a baby now would fear a snake but would not realise about the dangers of putting his fingers into an electric socket. Human survival mechanisms are pretty much the same as millions of years ago while our environment has new demands and requires much more complex skills. As a simple example, when we experience stress our body automatically engages the “fight or flight” response. Heart rate and blood pressure increases to prepare the body to react, blood-glucose level increases to be used as energy, smooth muscle relaxes to allow more oxygen into the lungs, pupils dilate to take as much light as possible, nonessential systems such as digestion and immune system shut down to ensure all the energy is focused on the emergency functions, etc. Everything needed to fight or to run away from the potential danger. Now, what happens when we face mental stress perhaps due to negative thought, a bad memory, a nightmare or an argument? Exactly the same mechanism is triggered, as the body cannot differ between a real and an imaginary thread. On this events we would be best advised to engage our emotional intelligence instead; however we developed the last one at a higher level long time after the ‘primitive response’, which has been the key to survive so far as a species. Then, how can we get to manage this ancestral response? How can we give a proportionate response to every situation? Well, this survival mechanism is really powerful and is still there for safety reasons so there is no way to get rid of it completely. What we can do thought, is to obtain a deeper understanding about it and its source to be proactive and gain power over it.
As we have been living much longer hunting and gathering rather than living in society, as we know it today, we need to realise how this can affect our health and existence in terms of energy expenditure. We moved from be all day active, walking and messing around -running away from predators, hunting and in search of foods and shelter to feed ourselves and stay safe (involving this long walks which could perfectly last over months and years)-, to a pretty sedentary lifestyle, working in offices, driving, lying watching TV, standing during hours, etc. Our bodies are designed to maintain an active lifestyle so that we can burn energy and toxins, release tensions and dispel worries. Exercise is like a self-cleansing system, our natural condition and therefore should be the rule. It is the way to maintain optimal health, not only physically but also mentally.
Fitness helps you to feel more relaxed, confident and comfortable in your own skin. In addition it is a great way to explore your own limits and challenge yourself. Now, do not forget that more is not always better. Overtraining has been shown to negatively affect our health in both, the short and long term. Always listen to your body, be kind to yourself and if you are not sure about where is the limit, ask your trainer. When we were hunters and gatherers we lived less than a few decades, so we need to readjust the intensity and frequency of our workouts to our current lifestyle.
There is a wide range of activities you can perform to release all the stress out and develop emotional control in any situation. Nonetheless, following the wrong guidance or programme could drive you in the opposite direction, becoming an overconfident, irritable and unhealthy version of yourself, so be aware and take responsibility of your ‘fitness choices’.
Next time I will share with you effective ways to gain power over the little predator living within us. This will help you not only to expand your emotional intelligence but also to see and achieve your goals clearly. All this process takes some courage, guidance and time. If you are not on it yet, I invite you to join us on this incredible journey. For now simply acknowledge this little predator within you from an observer -non-judgmental- perspective and realise its power and reach.
We all were born animals and somehow were forced to become civilized beings without even letting us understand how. Fitness can definitely help us to learn who we are at a deeper level and how to find inner balance.
Written by Pilar