Stress: the silent killer
Our stress response (also called fight or flight) is natural and is there to give us a ‘turbo boost’ button when we need it most. Without this massively powerful reaction to moments of stress, ancient man would have been quickly eaten by some big, hungry beasty and never survived long enough to pass on his genes to us.
During times of immediate danger from predators or during the excitement of the hunt they would have experienced what today would be called ‘extreme stress’: times when the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism is triggered. This response to stressful situations today enables us, just like our ancient ancestors, to reach new heights of performance – both physically and mentally. In times of high adrenalin the human body can perform at a higher level than normal and is capable of feats simply not possible in day-to-day life.
In a previous life my co-author was a fire-fighter and has experienced this adrenalin-fuelled ‘high’ many times. He once put the challenge to me to pick a fully grown adult up from a seated position on the ground by lifting them under their arms with my hands – not a chance, and nor can he normally! But in the line of duty, when the chips were down and with his body on high alert, he has done this many times without ever straining.
Stress and adrenalin are invaluable and essential in short bursts when required, but lethal when inadvertently left switched on for months or even years.
Our cosy modern world leaves us few opportunities to unleash our fight or flight instincts and crank our bodies up to the max. But our ancient bodies yearn to release these hormones from time to time to stay healthy. Today with few dangers or ‘chases’ to perform, our stress response hormones ‘leak’ uncontrollably into our bloodstream.
It is accepted in modern medicine that stress is a key factor in many medical conditions and diseases. The ability to release these natural hormones in a controlled way through physical play and by indulging in intrinsically relaxing activities can reduce stress levels naturally without resorting to drugs.
For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, fitness, vitality and potency were not the intention of the lifestyles they lead; they were the by-products. Looked at ‘instinctively’, exercise is not a goal to be clawed for, simply time for physical play. A paleo diet is not eaten just to make us look a certain way – it’s because frankly it tastes better without the ‘claggy’ starch-filled products and is more nourishing.
Both food and exercise should enjoyable activities you look forward to; if they are unpleasant or hurt – you’re doing something wrong!
Instinctive Fitness is about daring to be more playful in your whole outlook on life; in the activities you participate in, in the food you cook and in the way you interact with other people.[close box]
World famous eastern/western medicinal health guru Dr. Deepak Chopra believes:
“Prolonged stress can make you sick and can accelerate aging. Over time, the stress response can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, stomach ulcers, autoimmune diseases, cancer, anxiety, insomnia, and depression.” He goes even further with his assessment of conventional treatment for heart disease and says “
“Since the early post-war era, many studies have found that being chronically stressed greatly increases your risk of heart disease, in part by raising circulating levels of cortisol, one of a number of “stress hormones.” In fact, one study found that people with high levels of cortisol had five times the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease”
“We believe that in having a more relaxed attitude toward the quest for health and fitness, and a playful attitude towards life as a whole, both mental and physical”.
On a long-term basis, thinking too much and fretting about exercise and nutrition can in itself be stressful and damagingl. Adrenaline has a corrosive long- term effect on the whole body – like a raucous, out of control party, it’s exciting, exhilarating, and fun for an evening, but is not likely to do you, your health or your bank account a lot of favours if protracted over weeks or months.
The irony of this is that many of us seek the buzz of constantly high adrenaline levels, pursuing pseudo high octane activities like consoles games, movies, gambling or internet surfing. Any of these activities in short bursts is arguably a good release of stress, but all too often the rush of adrenaline becomes an addiction and can become all-consuming to the point of obsession. Adrenalin continuously pumping around the system is not good for the body and can result in an addiction to the activity itself.
Any area of life where you just can’t help yourself from over indulging, is one you should perhaps take a closer look at. Have your basic animal instincts been hijacked by modern hyper-stimuli beyond your control? Tread carefully!
Most people in our information-saturated, break-neck modern world have lost the ability to hold complete focus on anything due to chronic levels of stress. They can only relax when distracted from their own feelings and immediate environment – hence why the most popular form of relaxation is drinking alcohol in front of the TV, which is a distraction from both ourselves and our situation.
The best tips for relaxation are to slow down, do one thing at a time, and breathe evenly. Relax your shoulder and neck muscles – if you can get your body to relax you’ll soon find your mind follows. Too often we rush about, multi-tasking and worrying about stuff that may never happen.