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Heeding the call of our DNA

By Trish Anderson, MPH

Underneath this current health threat is another one—the declining state of our species’ health and resiliency. A decline that has been going on for decades…

Modern life is turning us into distant reminders of our badass ancient ancestors. Our senses and capabilities are being dulled. They’re being lost. 

As a whole we’re less healthy, too. The research tells us that it’s the combination of misaligned lifestyle factors that are contributing to our ever increasing rates of chronic disease, obesity, autoimmunity, depression, and anxiety. There’s no shortage of statistics confirming that a large part of today’s population are dealing with at least one, if not several, of these issues. 

These are modern problems.  Their biggest impact is not that some of them can lead to early death, but rather it’s their detrimental impact on our quality of life. That’s the tragic part. Too many people today will never know how good it feels to feel good. And a population that largely doesn’t feel well is just not ok.

This wasn’t the kind of living we were designed for. If it was, we wouldn’t have been able to overcome the challenges we did in order to even be here. The ironic thing is that some of those very challenges are why we are here today.

Environmental pressures over millions of years forced us to become the incredibly capable creatures we eventually became. Over the last 300,000 years, our DNA, our biology, hasn’t really changed. What it expects, and needs, hasn’t changed either.

Key nutrients from food were important in the process that got us here, but so was facing and growing from challenge, danger, discomfort…and quiet.  These too are forces that resulted in our becoming capable, intelligent, and robust. Key food nutrients alone couldn’t have done it. It was this food (and sometimes lack of it) plus: long, long walks to develop strong feet, legs, and organs; short sprints and a quick climb up a tree to escape danger and hone our athleticism; ample play and leisure to learn new skills and challenge our brains; stretches of being in quiet to sharpen our senses. (In an environment of clean air, clean water, and yes, clean dirt.)

Without these “signals” we wouldn’t have been forced to become the smart, enduring creatures we became. So you could say, we were built for the occasional challenge, to withstand discomfort, to be exposed to and handle a little danger, to play, to be immersed in periods of quiet.

The question is, what happens if we remove these things from our lives? What if we spend most hours indoors, driving everywhere, ordering take out, glued to a screen, always comfortable, distracted, disconnected? (In an environment teeming with synthetic toxins.)

Here’s what happens: we don’t stay as sharp, or strong, or happy, or resilient, or aware. Slowly our vitality starts to wane, since it’s no longer needed.  Eventually, our DNA stops seeing the need to keep us healthy, because why should it? 

Today, the new norm is a low-grade chronic discontent and sub-par health that we don’t even know we have. We self-medicate and self-soothe with things that really are only keeping us exactly where we are. 

For me, I can tell you that when I started to “feed” my DNA with the variety of signals our bodies and minds expect I was transformed, experiencing better health thanks to a more robust immune system, greater resiliency to stress, improved fitness, sharpened senses. I realized that not providing my body and mind with the signals they need was like trying to drive a car with flat tires—it’s doable but far from ideal.

In the grand scheme of things, these are nice problems to have. I’m a privileged person living a comfortable and abundant life. I cringe a little to even write this post because I know there are too many humans today, near and far, dealing with very real and inhumane levels of challenge, danger and discomfort.  

But for those of us living in excess, know that avoiding the variety of signals our bodies and minds need is contributing to our poor health. It’s numbing us to our world, too.  

There is a tragic disconnect between what we were designed for and how we’re living. It is imperative for our health as modern beings to heed the call of our DNA, to live a little more deliberately….a little more wildly.

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