1. Functional Medicine describes 6 keystones of ancestral/Paleo life — varied activity, nutrition, time outdoors, sleep, inner work, and meaningful socializing — as a model for optimal health
2. Modern life disrupts all these areas, leading to chronic stress and disease; the resulting imbalance is large and requires large corrections
3. Most of us therefore view intense, effective exercise as a necessary but unpleasant evil to be finished as quickly as possible, to get back to life’s important activities
4. Exercise is only one of the cardinal 6 keystones, and can only go so far to make up for deficiencies in the other 5
Or as I said in the last post, You can’t outrun a donut, and you can’t exercise away a toxic relationship.
Intensity is fine, and can be necessary
There’s nothing wrong with exercising — or correcting health problems — intensely.
If your blood pressure is 40 points too high, you could have a stroke or heart attack, and should be focused on reducing those numbers real soon.
If your goal is to get stronger, you will need to train according to the overload principle and load your muscles with more than they can comfortably handle.
Intensity of commitment and effort can be entirely appropriate.
But intensity can be like the saying, A lack of planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine. Getting out of a tough spot may demand intense running around, but it wouldn’t be as necessary if you’d addressed other key areas.
Consider a rock band
At minimum, a rock band requires a drummer, a bass guitarist, a lead guitarist, and a singer. (I love me my Journey and Billy Joel, so I’d personally throw in a keyboardist and rhythm guitarist, but that’s just me.)
If you were in a band and suddenly your drummer and bass guitarist got sick, you could wing it for a couple of sets at a dinner party. Especially if you had a voice that rivaled Celine Dion’s, you could turn down the lights, belt out an amazing song a capella, and leave everyone clapping furiously.
But no matter how awesome your voice is, if you’re missing your percussion and bass guitar, your band is no longer a rock band. An indie alternative group, maybe, but if the business proposition is Must play rock venues, your band is sunk.
Getting diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure because you eat like crap, get half the sleep your body needs, spend zero time outdoors in nature, do nothing to neutralize your stress, and have no meaningful connection to others is like having a rock band without your guitars, percussion, and keyboard.
If you’re going to fix things by having your singer (exercise) do all the work, you might succeed.
But that singer had better be a-frakking-mazing, every night of the tour, for years.
Get the band together
The analogy breaks down in real life: getting 4-6 musicians to regularly play nice with each other has its own challenges. Rock history is full of bands that eventually dissolved because the members couldn’t stand each other.
But hopefully you get the idea.
More important than an exercise program minimum, your overall approach to health needs a program minimum. And it’s not about swings or get ups, sets or reps, or intensity.
It’s about putting work into all 6 of the cardinal areas.
Even if you can’t optimize any of them, if you can get 6 hours of sleep regularly instead of 3, cut out processed foods and cut back on the starchy carbs, and be a good friend to old friends, you’ll be way ahead of the game, compared to just dialing in a perfectly customized exercise program.
As a reminder, here are the 6, with specific suggestions:
1. Time outdoors in nature, in the sun: aim for 30 minutes a day
2. Whole food-based nutrition: investigate Paleo, here’s a quick start
3. Plentiful sleep, not long after the sun goes down: lights out to wakey = at least 8 hours
4. Inner work/meditation: journaling or meditation, 20 minutes daily, twice daily ideal
5. Closely socializing with others: reconnect with a friend, weekly
6. Varied physical activity, including strength, low intensity locomotion, and multidirectional movement — specifics to come in the next post
Next time: specifics on designing your own exercise program.