Extreme Environment Is What We Need If We Want To Stay Healthy
If you’ve watched Man vs. Wild, you must have gasped at what Bear Gryll does in the show. Taking baths in icy rivers, eating giant worms, sleeping unprotected in the wild…
It’s really hard to imagine how life would be if we were placed in such extreme environments, isn’t it? Living in the modern society, we seldom need to confront the elements. When summer comes, we can simply turn on the air-conditioners. In the winter, we can stay in our cozy homes with the protection of heaters.
The counter-intuitive approach to keep us healthy
While we’re counting our blessings, the American journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney puts forward a different view. In his recent book What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environment Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength, Carney suggests that apart from exercise and diet, exposure to environmental stress, like extreme high and low temperatures, is the essential third pillar to keep us healthy.
What doesn’t kills you makes you stronger
Thinking what Carney says is counter-intuitive? Then you haven’t realized the fact that human body needs occasional physical challenges to maintain its optimal state. It is the modern sedentary lifestyle creates the illusion that we can’t endure the harsh conditions shown in Man vs. Wild.
Just as what Carney wrote in his book:
“With no challenge to overcome frontier to press, or threats to flee from, the humans of the millennium are overstuffed, overheated, and under-stimulated.”
Modern sedentary lifestyle is a sugar-coated poison
Actually, the surge of health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and anxiety in this century has proven that the comfortable lifestyle we’re living is not desirable for our bodies. Deterioration in health conditions become common when we consume too many processed foods and become oversensitive to trivial matters in life.
Scott Carney explained in his book how today’s lifestyle defies the history of evolution:
Anatomically modern humans have lived on the planet for almost 200,000 years. That means your office-mate who sits on a rolling chair behind fluorescent lights all day has pretty much the same basic body as the prehistoric caveman who made spear points out of flint to hunt antelope. To get from there to here humans faced countless challenges as we fled predators, froze in snowstorms, sought shelter from the rain, hunted and gathered our food, and continued breathing despite suffocating heat. Until very recently there was never time a when comfort could be taken for granted — there was always a balance between the effort we expended and the downtime we earned. For the bulk of that time we managed these feats without even a shred of what anyone today would consider modern technology. Instead, we had to be strong to survive.
That’s why Carney advocates bringing environmental challenges back into our lives. He worked with Wim Hof, a Dutchman with the nickname of “Iceman” to conduct an experiment to see whether exposure to extremely cold environment can help bring our fitness to another level and heal us from injuries and diseases.
Although it’s not scientifically proven yet, many successful cases show it works!
Although currently there is no concrete scientific evidence showing the effectiveness of Hof’s cold exposure therapy, Carney observed from Hof’s students that withstanding extreme cold weather helps relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and Cohn’s disease. Laird Hamilton, the legendary big-wave surfer, even publicly cited Hof’s method as influential.
Does it mean that I need to go back into the wild to stay healthy?
No, you don’t need to challenge yourself by immersing yourself in ice water like what Hof and Hamilton do. After all, we’re not professional athletes with exceptional physical strength. But you can try taking on more physical challenges like having cold shower instead of bathing in lukewarm water in summer or doing some high intensity exercises.
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