Everyone knows the United States suffers from an obesity problem. The media bombards us with wonder diets, exercise plans, weight-loss pills, plastic surgery options like liposuction, major surgery options like gastric bypasses, and/or psychological counseling to get at the root of eating problems. Yet we seem to get fatter and fatter. I’m not an obesity expert, but I think the main reason our collective weight keeps going up is that lifestyles of people living in the industrialized countries have evolved to less and less physical activity (not just exercise) but with no change to a basic diet which was tailored to a high-activity lifestyle.
The best example of this is the stereotypical farm breakfast: Eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, coffee with cream. Most of that food came from less than 100 feet away–the farmer’s farm. Eggs from chickens, bacon from the slaughtered pig, potatoes from the garden , bread from the wheat harvested on the north forty, milk, butter, and cream from old Bossy, . It was the cheapest, most convenient way to get food into bodies that worked twelve or more strenuous hours per day.
One hundred years ago that diet worked well. Caloric input was offset by equal exertion and burning of those calories. Fast forward to the 21st century. Farming has become almost completely automated. Giant farm machines do the tilling, planting, weeding, and harvesting, needing only a driver to sit in an air-conditioned cab and steer the vehicles, or now, even guided and steered by GPS.
But the All-American, rural-based breakfast we eat remains pretty much the same, augmented by high calorie, sweet, starchy, processed, time-saving foods that give the cook of the house more leisure time as well. Industrialization and automation reduce the need for physical labor such as washing dishes, hauling water, doing laundry by hand down at the creek, feeding animals, cleaning house on hands and knees with a pail of water, a scrub brush and a mop, and the other chores of maintaining a household and a lifestyle.
As automation and robotics take over more of the physical aspects of more and more jobs (think robotization of manufacturing industries), people in developed countries are physically working less (body in motion) in exchange for a computer in an air-conditioned office building to where they must drive because it’s too far to walk. So we sit more, are passively entertained more, and eat higher calorie foods than we used to 100 years ago.
The Neo-Renaissance person must exercise if only to combat weight-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. Beyond that, exercise stimulates the brain, helps with blood flow, alertness, creativity, even inspiration. For endurance athletes like marathoners or tri-athletes, focusing on one physical task for a long time can lead to an endorphin rush, the “runner’s high” phenomenon of feeling energized despite exhausting one’s body physically.
Less strenuous activity, like walking or biking at a leisurely pace, gets one into a different environment, often outside, where the mind can be distracted or inspired by nature, other people, weather activity, new surroundings, etc. That change of environment can clear one’s thoughts and facilitate solving problems or finding inspiration to enhance creativity.
My Neo-Renaissance protagonist, Matt Lanier, was raised on a farm and grew up doing strenuous chores, so was indoctrinated into an active lifestyle during childhood. He also participated in school sports (the usual football, basketball, baseball) and worked for a wilderness canoe outfitter during summers off from high school and college. His tasks there were related to preparing canoes and gear for customer trips as well as doing some guiding as he gained experience.
Matt’s profession is music, which can be fairly sedentary (except for rock and jazz drummers and pop acts that rely on a lot of dancing and onstage gyrations). Matt took up golf and tennis as an adult and also began running moderately, but regularly, when he realized he was getting a bit soft living the jazz musicians lifestyle early in his career–late nights, convenience food, long bus rides, disrupted schedule while touring, too much alcohol and recreational drugs. Don’t worry, fans, I only allowed him to smoke marijuana in college and during his jazz years. Once he gained some respectability as a classical performer, he eliminated the pot and cut his alcohol consumption to a moderate level.
The key to maintaining one’s Neo-Renaissance Physical cornerstone is to develop an active lifestyle that includes lifelong play or sports activities such as walking, jogging, tennis, golf, swimming, dancing, or any other physical activity one can enjoy on a regular sustained basis.
I’ve been weight training for almost thirty years–mainly to maintain muscle tone and flexibility. I’d never win a body building contest, nor do I try to get that kind of body. My aerobic activities include walking, ice skating, cross-country skiing, golf (I walk almost all the time on the course), wilderness canoeing, and the occasional pickleball match with my dad when I visit him in Arizona. I’ll probably address my golf addiction in a future post, since I’m sure many of you are shaking your heads right now thinking “Pfft, golf! Why any sane person plays that ridiculous game is beyond me.” Trust me, golf is way more than what you see watching a professional golf tournament on television.
What do you do to build and maintain your Physical Cornerstone? Have you always been active or did you need to reach a crisis point and make a hard decision to change your life for the healthier?