No, I am not talking about doing drugs outdoors, but I’m referring to what ancient man (and woman) often experienced. They got a lot of sun, and they probably moved a lot, and it is safe to say that this is what we are probably the life we are meant to experience. While most of us may enjoy sitting down in a temperature-controlled room, we really aren’t physiologically wired to have this sort of experience every day of the year.
Think about it. When, in the history of humankind, until very recently, did people stay inside so much, and do such little activity? The upper classes, few in number, perhaps had such an experience, but most did not. In fact, most people throughout human history have spent long hours outside and have been, whether as wandering nomads, hunter-gatherers, or simply working the fields, on the move.
You can’t take a human body, designed to be outside, and on the move, and stick it at an desk inside for 10 hours a day, and/or on a couch for 5 hours a day inside, and expect health and happiness. And this could be why many Americans are unhealthy and feel so darn unhappy.
There are many good reasons to actually be out in the sun, and one is Vitamin D production. Studies show that many diseases are tied to low Vitamin D levels, including autism, cancer, depression, and multiple sclerosis, diseases becoming more common as Americans spend less-and-less time in the sun. While it is true too much sun exposure can increase the risk of easily treatable forms of skin cancer, and increase the rate that your skin will look “ridden hard and put away wet,” as local good-ol boys describe it, sun exposure likely helps prevent difficult-to-treat cancers like breast and colon cancer.
Ok, we need some sun, but do we need speed? Likely. One example is a study that shows that runners live significantly longer than non-runners, in part because running encourages new nerve growth. And combining the two for some sun and speed, has some benefits as well. For example, one study found that while exercising indoors reduced depression by 45% , exercising outdoors decreased depression by 71%, almost double the indoor rate. So basically, moving outside is much more effective at treating depression than exercising indoors. This could explain that while exercising at the Y can sometimes be a chore, I rarely have to be prodded to run outside, over the hills outside my old high school.
I often ponder these things while I am running outside, for example, yesterday in the blistering heat, which limited my time outside. One thing I thought of is that in the last 20+ years, we have been taught to value being inside, and honestly, to fear the outside. It seems as if parents are so worried about what may possibly happen to a child, that a lot of the stuff I did growing up outside (that kids had done for years earlier) is now off-limits. So, since a child can’t go outside and play at noon (the sun is too hot and a weird looking redneck just walked by), he sits inside glued to the computer, not that he would even want to go outside anyway, because he can just “go outside” on his video game. Then when he does go outside for real, the sun has a kind of “it burns, it burns” feel, and being weighed down by too many bags of snack-size Cheetos, he runs (not literally, of course) for cover for the nearest air-conditioned building. I am basically describing myself as a middle-schooler, except that my mom was never hysterical, and did encourage us to play outside, although since the Nintendo was inside, I often stayed there.
Basically, the point is my post is that a lot of our modern problems, including depression and chronic diseases (like cancer) could be related to the fact that our modern way of living is just contrary to our wiring. Instead of immediately reaching for expensive drugs, long courses of therapy, or self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or partying, we may just need a little more sun and a little more speed*. Of course, I say this while I type inside with the AC turned up…
* – Obviously depression is a real condition, and it is important to seek a doctor’s advice before going on or off depression medication, or before beginning an exercise program.