Survival of the fittest – and Beat the Couch
I've been reading Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari lately, and it's got me in a spin. Before I studied nutrition, I did a bachelor's degree in anthropology. I loved it and use lots of the concepts to explain addictions and behaviour within the clinic and when I'm teaching too.
However, after 18 years, a lot of the facts became a little fuzzy. Harari has written a book that is totally mind-bending.
It's an amazing analysis of human evolution and a stark reminder of how rapidly (despite our insanely fast “development”) we're actually messing it all up.
Ironically, sapiens (referring to our species, Homo sapiens) means “wise”. That seems ill-fitting when we have an ocean full of plastic and Trump as the president of the United States.
To help me set the scene for you, let me throw a few stats your way: Planet Earth has been around for 13.5 billion years; species of animals recognisable as humans for 2.5 million.
Homo erectus (cue some hilarious and immature jokes) was the most successful human species, surviving for 2 million years. In contrast, Homo sapiens evolved 200,000 years ago and, Harari estimates, have only 1,000 years left on this planet.
That's the timeline we're dealing with ... and no, I didn't drop a zero. We're facing massive environmental challenges and a huge health crisis. Modern medicine is miraculous, but it's not been great for “survival of the fittest”.
Putting it harshly, many of the sickest and weakest among us are still able to reproduce.
That has obvious emotional and sociological advantages, but it doesn't build a very resilient human race.
I'm not sure that's Harari's ultimate point, though. I know he gets so far as predicting that humans become increasingly redundant as robotic intelligence advances. I'm only halfway through; it's a heavy read!
However, the health perspective is a fascinating one. For tens of thousands of years we hunted and gathered.
We then spent a single ten thousand years as farmers and herders. And now, two thousand years as urban labourers and office workers with a really messed-up food chain. I don't know yet to what extent he thinks our nutrition may be part of our demise ... I'll keep you posted.
The irony is that while we've made staggering progress in the advancement of medicine, emergency surgery and disease management, we've made relatively little progress in terms of disease prevention. Once we're injured or ill, we're exceptionally good at buying ourselves some time (although the economic cost of this is crippling and quality of life can, in some cases, suffer enormously), but we're not so good at nipping preventable illness in the bud.
We keep on eating the doughnuts and drinking the soda in an astounding communal pursuit of short-term gain, our heads well and truly in the sand.
Why do we do it? Because we've become biologically and socially addicted to a devastating combination of salt, sugar and hyper-processed, saturated fats.
It's easier, cheaper (arguably) and extremely socially acceptable to eat junk or less-healthy options. And for as long as that's the case, our health status isn't likely to change.
This makes nutrition a hugely pertinent and urgent topic; I feel relentlessly passionate about it! But as much as I could go on and on about nutrition, it's nice to diversify too. It's one of the reasons we launched Beat the Couch, our beginners' running programme.
We build nutrition advice into that too, but the focus is really on the running.
The nice thing is that you don't have to exercise to the degree of a hunter-gatherer in order to be fit.
In fact, moderate activity (that gets you out of breath) a couple of times a week, will go a long way.
Beat the Couch gives you a flexible structure to help you do just that. It meets your primal need for exercise, but accounts for modern-day living and our busy, unpredictable lifestyles.
We get you 5K-fit over a period of ten weeks.
It's fine if you've never run before … and if that's the case, then you're actually our target market! By the time this prints, we will have had the intro night to the programme, but it's not too late to sign up.
You can take part in optional “before” biometrics tomorrow (if you want to track your body composition as you progress) and the training itself begins next week.
We've got a great group of over 50 people taking part — younger, older, men, women, stay-at-home moms, high-flying execs … people from all walks of life.
It's amazing to see everyone come together with a common goal and even better to see you cross the finish line in ten weeks' time. This season, thanks to our amazing sponsor Sun Life Financial International, we're also running a pilot group for 10 to 15-year-olds.
Kids run free so long as they're with a fee-paying adult, so it's a great way to get fit as a family!
Moderate exercise (such as running three times a week) has been medically proven to improve body composition, reduce visceral fat, boost the immune system, improve mood and enhance the efficacy of insulin.
It's a no-brainer for feeling good and for preventing disease. It's especially important given how sedentary the majority of us are. As humans, we may be able to map out DNA and walk on the moon, but we've got to get better at the basics.
Let us help you do that! Join us for Beat the Couch. All details at www.natural.bm.
• Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. For details: www.natural.bm, 236-7511 or, Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda
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