We all know we need to exercise and have a balanced diet. But some argue that we should also live more like the first humans.
“The secret to breaking through our inner biology is as simple as leaving our comfort zones and seeking out just enough environmental stress to make us stronger,” writes journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney in his 2017 book, “What Doesn’t t Kill Us: How Icy water, extreme altitude, and environmental conditioning will renew our lost evolutionary strength.
Carney argues that the basic idea behind “environmental conditioning” is that, for thousands of years, humans lived without the comforts of the modern world.
Today, we still carry many of the same genes that helped us survive thousands of years ago.
“There’s a whole hidden physiology in our bodies that operates on evolutionary programming that most of us aren’t trying to unlock,” Carney writes.
Carney suggests that environmental conditioning can help you reconfigure your cardiovascular system and combat autoimmune issues. And “it’s a damn good method for just losing weight,” he writes.
Under the direction of Wim Hoff — a Dutchman who advocates a mix of environmental exposure and conscious breathing to control our involuntary physical reactions — Carney explores this world of ice baths and climbing shirtless on the snowy peaks.
For people who already push themselves hard – marathon runners, triathletes and Tough Mudders – the idea that being too comfortable could be bad for your health might strike a chord. There is research to back up the idea that immersion in the natural world could improve your health.
For example, a
- Another one 2015 study, showed that exposure to 63°F (17°C) for 2 hours per day for 6 weeks decreased body fat. This study included 51 healthy young male volunteers.
- A 2014 study supports Hof’s method of using cold immersion and mindful breathing to suppress the innate immune response, possibly reducing excessive or persistent inflammation.
It should be noted that all of the research cited above included a small number of subjects, which worries some researchers.
“For human variation studies, you really want to have a lot more than that. Working with just 24 people prevents you from making any sort of correlations,” Jessica Brinkworth, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois who studies the evolution of immune function, told Healthline.
She says what’s missing from research in this area are larger randomized studies that compare what happens to people undergoing environmental conditioning for several weeks with a similar group going about their normal routine.
She also says that there needs to be more studies that compare the benefits of environmental conditioning with other activities, such as aerobic or strength exercise, mindfulness meditation per se, and a diet consisting of organic foods. whole foods.
Many parts of the body work together to form the immune system. Everything from skin and blood circulation to the lymphatic system. The purpose of the immune system is to prevent or limit infection. It does this by categorizing cells that are normal and healthy and cells that may be causing problems.
Under normal circumstances, our immune system “is always actively engaged,” Brinkworth said — it’s recalculating, reassessing and reorganizing itself all the time.
There are two parts to the immune system:
The innate immune system protects the body from pathogens in a non-specific way. This includes immune cells, like phagocytes and mast cells, as well as the skin – which Brinkworth calls the “biggest immunological barrier you have”.
The adaptive immune system includes T and B cells. When this part of the immune system encounters a specific pathogen, it produces an initial immune response and remembers. If the body encounters this pathogen again, the immune system will react faster and more dramatically.
You can also take steps to boost your immune system, including eating a nutrient-dense diet and getting enough sleep.
What weakens the immune system?
Certain things can weaken the immune system, including:
“Immunity is the most expensive system we have. It costs a lot of calories,” Brinkworth said. “So it’s not very surprising that in endurance athletes and people who do extreme training, we were seeing downregulation of immune function.”
Brinkworth said when the body is stressed — such as during calorie restriction — it can turn off the adaptive immune response in order to save energy.
“You can argue that some of the things Hof is suggesting are dangerous,” Brinkworth said, “because it would potentially lead to this decline in adaptive responses if you did it persistently.”
Read more: Treating pain with heat and cold.
Taking a more moderate approach to physical activity can have many benefits.
“Why should we go to extremes when we just need to exercise?” says Ellen Glickman, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at Kent State University and a self-proclaimed “person of moderation.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend adults take at least
Glickman says aerobic exercise can be “just as engaging” and provides many benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health, improved overall health and well-being, calorie burning, and increase in endorphins.
Spending time outdoors, not just in extreme conditions, can be beneficial. Natural settings can improve short-term memory, relieve stress, reduce inflammation, and help you focus.
Read more: How long to get in shape?
It depends on who you ask.
“Evolution shapes health. Health is the result of evolution,” says Brinkworth. “That’s absolutely true.”
She points out that evolution should definitely guide how we treat disease and help people stay healthy, “but it has to be done knowingly with real biological information.”
Other scientists wonder if living like early humans makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.
Kyle Summers, PhD, an evolutionary biologist at East Carolina University, told Healthline that while “substantial” changes occurred in the human genome during the Pleistocene period, “it is also likely that there have been a significant amount of evolutionary changes during our most recent evolutionary history, including the some 10,000 years since the origins of agriculture.
Summers says it’s also difficult to know exactly how early humans lived.
Environmental conditioning has its proponents, but others warn of a healthy dose of skepticism.
“While I think ideas from the paleo community may have some merit in certain contexts, it’s hard to separate valid ideas from those that are overly speculative and unsubstantiated,” says Summers.
There is also the risk of going too far. Being too paleo human-like may not be all it’s made out to be.
“If you want to live in difficult circumstances and deliberately stress yourself long-term and avoid modern drugs and modern concepts of hygiene,” says Brinkworth, “you are going to have the same lifespan as other members of the [early] Gender Homo – it’s 30-35 years old.
Environmental conditioning is the idea that humans have adapted to survive the extreme conditions of primitive humanity. By recreating some of these conditions, such as exposing yourself to extreme cold, some people claim you can experience certain health benefits and boost the immune system.
However, there is little research on environmental conditioning, and most of the studies that have been done have relied on a small sample of participants.
There is a stronger body of science showing that a more moderate approach to physical activity has many benefits.