The recent movements for the Paleo diet and barefoot running fascinate me. Not so much because I am a huge proponent of either (the correct footwear is very important, but that is a subject for a whole other blog) but rather because how they challenge us to evaluate our current living environments and habits. Proponents of the Paleo diet and barefoot running are similar in that they believe their way is correct because humans have evolved for millions of years eating “paleo” diets and running and walking without shoes. “Paleo” is short for Paleolithic, a period of time that began when humans began using basic tools and forming bands of other humans to hunt and gather food. The period lasted around 2.5 million years, or about 95% of human’s existence. Experts believe it is when much of the evolving into our current human form took place. Therefore, to summarize briefly, the Paleo diet is where one eats only what was available during the Paleolithic (caveman) era as that is how humans evolved nutritionally so that is what must be best for our bodies currently. Likewise, proponents of barefoot running suggest that humans have run unshod for the majority of our existence and thus the shoes we wear are unnatural and contributing to injuries and pain.
The purpose of this blog is not to debate whether or not the Paleo diet and barefoot running is healthy. However, it begs the question…what else in our daily life has not been around for 95% of our existence and could be contributing to injuries and pain? Below are two pieces of technology that were not available for cavemen that may be negatively affecting us and ways to incorporate a little more “paleo” in your life to counteract their effects.
Yup, we are starting with this. The modern flushing toilet was not widely used until the late 19th century. While various toilet systems were utilized over the past few hundred years by different cultures, most sitting toilets were reserved for the elite few. The majority of humans for the majority of our existence would squat to void themselves. Don’t get me wrong, the modern toilet and sewer system is arguably one of the greatest inventions of all time. It allowed people to live in close proximity to one another in one location and it prevented widespread disease. However, our current porcelain thrones are not ideal for bowel movements and pelvic floor health.
Nearly everyone I see in the clinic I ask to squat down, keeping their heels on the ground. It gives me a quick view on how they move through their ankles, knees, hips, and back and how they have a tendency to move left versus right. A full squat is a movement every human should be able to do. Benefits of squatting are numerous and has been shown to make elimination faster, easier and more complete. Squatting while voiding can reduce risks of colon cancer, appendicitis, inflammatory bowel disease, hernias, diverticulosis, and pelvic organ prolapse. Additionally, it has been shown as an effective treatment for hemorrhoids. Disorders such as appendicitis, colon cancer, prostate disorders, diverticulosis, bladder incontinence, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease are nearly exclusively found in cultures with sitting toilets. Visit www.naturesplatform.com for more information.
While it may not be practical to squat every time you void, it is still worthwhile to practice squatting throughout the day to reduce back tension, promote proper mobility in ankles, knees, and hips, and to properly support your pelvic floor muscles. Work with your physical therapist if you are unable to squat down on your own.
Computers and Desk Jobs
Our caveman ancestors most certainly did no sit at a bright LCD-lit screen 12inches from their face. We are experiencing more sensory input now than any other time in human history. Computers, iPods, smart phones, TVs, etc. are constantly bombarding our senses throughout the day. At no other time in history have our brains been forced to manage this amount of sensory data. Conversely, our “Flinstone” kin did not sit stationary at a chair for the majority of their waking hours. They were walking, running, climbing, hunting, gathering, building, and creating. A position of sitting on a chair and staring at a computer has barely been around for a generation, however, most of our kids’ education and careers will involve sitting and starring at a bright-lit screen.
I recently had the opportunity to spend a morning at a local elementary school. The technological advances elementary schools have made in the past 10 years is remarkable. Every classroom had “smartboards”, which are essentially giant iPads used in the place of chalkboards. All the kids in the 3rd grade class had their own netbook to work on while the teacher was instructing them on the smartboard. They get assignments on their netbooks and are asked to complete Prezis (modern powerpoint) for school projects. These kids have been on the planet less than a decade and many have already experienced more TV and computer time than our grandparents did in a lifetime. Remarkable.
This is not a blog about how much access to computers our kids should have. Their futures will revolve around technology and computers, so it only makes sense to introduce them to it as soon as possible. However, we will benefit from occasionally stepping back and asking ourselves how all this sensory overload is affecting us. Instead of hunting and gathering, many of us must work at a computer in order to provide for our family. Below are some tips to help you manage your caveman body in the modern work environment.
1) Sit with your back relaxed and slightly rounded. Try not to sit overly erect and upright.
2) Position your knees even or slightly above your hips. This may require you to put a book or step under your feet.
3) Shift your left knee back to lightly feel your left inner thigh. Make sure your left sit bone maintains contact with the seat.
4) Fully exhale throughout your day.
5) Take breaks every 30-45 minutes and get up and walk around. Practice your squatting.
6) Keep your neck relaxed throughout the day. Position your computer so you are not straining your neck or back to view the screen.
7) When working at a computer, give your eyes a break every 30 minutes and look as far away as you can. Look out a window or down the hall. Hold this for 4-5 full exhales.
8) If you primarily work at a computer during the day, when you get home at night try to avoid getting back on the computer. Try not to look at bright screens up close and practice looking at objects far away.
I hope this blog got you thinking a little about our modern environment. What else is in our daily life that is anti-paleo? Feel free to leave a post or comment on Facebook on your thoughts. I am interested to see what everyone else comes up with!