June 17th 2019
Being uncomfortable. While I was listening to lectures on stress and human vitality in San Antonio, I decided to put these thoughts in print.
To be uncomfortable in many ways has been a benefit to human longevity and vitality. For centuries, humans had to endure temperature change daily, food scarcity and seasonality, hard beds, animal and microbial exposure and much more. Fast forward to the last 50 years and we see many in our country enjoying euthermic environments in our cars (idling in parking lots for an hour at soccer practice - pet peeve) and homes, constant access to high calorie nutrient poor food, over clean environments and total home comfort where you can sit on a luxurious couch for 10 hours binge watching your favorite Netflix show.
Human societies have been working hard for centuries to make life easier in all facets of existence. We likely hit the negative breakpoint years ago in regards to the perceived psychological benefit versus physiological detriment ratio. Psychological benefit is a real thing. When we feel happy, our bodies are unstressed and growing. We know that chronic stress is a killer. Therefore, some happy creature comforts make sense. On the flip side, too much comfort leaves our systems unchallenged and unprepared for acute stress and change. This appears to be the genesis of much human disease as of late.
Newborns that have no animal based microbial exposure in the first year or so of life have weaker and less tolerant immune systems leading to more allergy issues. Lack of sweating or freezing in the temperature extremes limits the production of beneficial chemicals in our bodies called temperature shock proteins. Toxin removal is decreased in a sedentary nonmoving or nonsweating state increasing chemical exposure and cancer risk. Constant eating is associated with chronic mTOR and insulin activity leading to increased cancer risk which has been well demonstrated with obesity.
Did you ever notice that you sleep much better after a hard physically active day when the room temperature is cooler? This is no coincidence. Humans have physiological systems that prefer some mild acute stress for best function. It is now clear in the data that random fasting and reduced caloric intake is associated with better health and longer life expectancy. When I was completing my fellowship at the University of Arizona, I remember Dr. Weil saying that skinny people are the first to die in a severe famine. It turns out that less eating is a distinct advantage for longevity. Here is to hoping for no severe famine!
Getting uncomfortable is a good idea. Being uncomfortable randomly is a good idea. I highly recommend pushing yourself and your kids as much as you can safely. When your kids go outside in the cold with shorts and a T shirt, be Ok with it and maybe copy them if you can. Have them bring along a sweater in case they get really cold. If they skip a meal, be ok with it and do it with them. Feel hunger and realize that you will survive. If they run and sweat like crazy, do it with them, especially if it is hot out. If they play in the dirt and roll in the grass, do it with them and encourage this great behavior.
Think about the athlete that practices the off balance shot. This is not a comfortable practice position. It is frankly annoying. However, how often in the game is your footing perfect? These are the efforts that make for more goals or baskets and ultimately success. Kids need to know that the edges of the extremes are great places to find maximal growth and flow states in the future.
I find that when skiing, the exhilaration does not come from the green or even blue trail on a perfect temperature day. It comes when it is cold and the black trail is tough. You bust through the difficulty as best you can and then look back up at the mountain and say thanks for the challenge, accepted and grateful.
I am actively pushing the process of fasting often, jumping into cold lakes in the winter, getting hot while waiting for my son to finish soccer practice without running the car and the AC polluting the field's air where he plays, sleeping outside, and many other ways to not be in the comfort of the world of modern America. To lead by example is to teach the next generation how to live.
Be a part of the change you want your kids to be.