Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 06, 2009

Dear Mark: Another Reason to Stay Fit

By Mark Sisson
28 Comments

Mark,

I really liked your post “This is why I Train.”  I’m still overweight and eat too many carbs, but I’m making progress.  I now work out a few times per week and have eaten more vegetables in the last two years than the previous thirty years combined.  Your blog has given me the best nutrition and fitness advice I’ve found anywhere on the internet, and it’s backed up with science, which is more than I can say for some of your competition.  Without voices like yours, the rest of us would be lost in a wilderness of misinformation.  Now, onto the important part of the email.

This week I’ve seen the other benefit to training.  It’s volunteering.  In North Dakota we’ve been dealing with flood conditions in several areas and so far we have a lot of property damage but no deaths.  It’s amazing to see how many people have turned out to fill, stack, and haul sandbags

While shoveling, I noticed how many of us were overweight and in poor shape.  I starting thinking about the possibilities.  How efficient could our emergency efforts be if we followed a lifestyle plan closer to the Primal Blueprint?  How many more sandbags could be filled?  Could more basements have been saved?  I’ll never criticize any of these people for showing up.  Still, I can’t help thinking how Grok would outwork every one of us.  He’s given us a fine example to follow.  And you never know when a PB lifestyle will be a true lifesaver.

By the way, I live on high ground.  My house is in no danger, but many people in this area have been displaced and watched their memories float down river.  It’s an ugly sight.

Thanks,

Mike

Thanks for the email, Mike. I’m sorry to hear about the poor weather conditions, but it sounds like you’re handling the situation the right way. It’s a scary-enough sight on television; I can only imagine its power and gravity up close and in person. Good luck with the progress.

I also gotta commend you for giving an even better reason for training than getting to frolick with the dolphins now and then: utility, preparedness, and safety. Nowadays, people eating well and working out do so for a whole host of reasons, including personal health, aesthetic concerns, weight loss, disease prevention, and athletic performance. Grok’ s motives were decidedly different. If Grok wasn’t in shape he just might not be able to obtain food, fight off predators and invaders, and survive the daily grind. Grok also had his community to think of.

Daily life for a community of Primal hunter-gatherers was all about the type of volunteering you mention. A hunting party, tasked with stalking the prey, coordinating the kill, and finally hauling the meat back to camp, had to be comprised of equally skilled and athletic Groks. Agility and accuracy were premium: one false move – a clumsy snap of a twig, a poorly thrown spear – could alert the animal and make it all for naught. Once the kill was made, strength and conditioning suddenly mattered: just a single weak Grok could have meant less meat carried back to hungry mouths. There were undoubtedly individuals of exceptional fitness and health, but by and large the entire group was consistently able to function effectively.

Contrast that with today, where the world is strictly divided. We “health nuts” are the weird ones; those people wheezing and huffing through the relief effort are the norm. Eating well and regular exercise are aberrations, personal choices a select few make. The very fact that “eating” requires the modifier “well” suggests that most eating is anything but well. Grok wouldn’t have considered what he ate healthy or unhealthy; to him, it was just eating.

There’s another division, too, one that became artificially pronounced with the advent of agriculture. Before the crops and the walls sprang up, we lived in relative symbiosis with nature. While our intelligence and increasing population may have prompted overhunting, for the most part we were like any other animal, getting our food and water from the wilds, familiarizing ourselves with a wide range of flora and fauna. Venturing out into the forest wasn’t a weekend excursion or a vacation; it was an everyday part of life. With agriculture, the dichotomy of man versus nature arose. We no longer used nature. We dominated it.

That urge to dominate comes from fear, I’d argue. And we still fear nature, by and large. Camping is “exciting.” Bugs are icky. Dirt is, well, dirty. Though these can easily be avoided (pristine luxury cabins, bug spray, and massive amounts of Purell), some of the more catastrophic aspects of nature still manage to worm their way into our lives without our blessing. Flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, snowstorm – these aren’t new occurrences (though some might suggest their frequency is increasing), but we seem unprepared every time one of them hits. Oh, sure, that communal mindset is still present, that urge to pitch in and help your neighbors (as Mike witnessed in North Dakota) no more evident than in times of natural calamity, but the physical tools simply aren’t there.

Civilization, if nothing else, has an undeniable softening effect on its members. In a way, it’s like being perpetually mothered – we don’t have to physically obtain our food, we’re protected from the elements, and life isn’t a daily struggle to survive. These are all positives, but they can foster weakness. Without the need to hunt, why work on agility, strength, and speed? With a roof over your head and central heating, why develop a resistance to cold? It’s only natural, I suppose. Grok would have gotten fat and lazy, too, if he had steady, instant access to food, shelter, and a warm bed.

Luckily for us, he didn’t. Instead, millions of years of evolutionary stress crafted a body that literally wants to be lean, strong, and healthy, with a brain powerful enough to understand the minute complexities of proper nutrition and fitness. In a way, we have it better than Grok ever did. We’ve got all the creature comforts of civilization (soap, shelter, technology, science) with the fantastic genetics of prehistoric man. We can utilize automatic survival mechanisms for personal gain (intermittent fasting) and we understand how our bodies move, allowing us to perform perfect functional lifts that optimize muscle development.

But we still need to act to realize our potential. Though we may not technically “need” to be in shape to survive, getting healthy would have enormous benefits – both personal and community-wide. Increasing your lean muscle mass looks good, for one, but it also forces your organs to keep up with your muscles and work even more efficiently. If your organs run better, you live longer, get to see your family more, and you visit the doctor less. Fewer doctor visits means lower health care costs for everyone. And, in the event of a flood, a town of fit, strong volunteers will be able to move more sandbags and save more homes. Those are just a few of the benefits that come with getting physically stronger – imagine the massive benefits of a worldwide shift toward Primal living.

If anything, I think we owe it to Grok to live up to the full potential of our genetics. He did all the dirty work. He slogged through countless Ice Ages, ate lots of weird animals and sampled poisonous plants, left Africa and subjected himself to a diversified range of dietary and environmental pressures just so we can survive and prosper today (or more precisely, so that his own, our own genes would survive and prosper). He’s given us all the tools we need to get and stay healthy and live long, full lives. I say we take him up on his offer.

Further Reading:

Top 10 Reasons to Stay Healthy

Get the Body You’ve Always Wanted

It’s Time to “Get Real”

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25 Comments on "Dear Mark: Another Reason to Stay Fit"

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John Sifferman - Real World Strength Training

I, for one, am proud of guys like Mark who are taking a stand and moving towards better health for the purpose of being more useful for his community. Bigger muscles, less bodyfat, and ascetics are all good training goals, but having REAL purpose behind your lifestyle is inspiring, far-reaching and more prosperous.

Stork
Stork
7 years 7 months ago

I would like to point out that if the primal shift ever went mainstream, meat demand would grow massively and common folk like myself would never be able to afford it. Not to mention to increase supply they’d have to intensify farming even more, so the meat would be of a lesser standard.

As selfish as it is, I’m pretty glad us healthy folk are a minority.

Evan
7 years 7 months ago
I read a transcript of a talk that an economist did, comparing the current financial crisis to Russia’s economic meltdown, and what lifestyle changes we might expect. For the life of me I can’t remember where I read it or else I’d share the link. But it was a sobering read. If North American society ever gets knocked down a few pegs to the point where extended families must live under the same roof to survive and there will be no choice but to walk or bicycle, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to… Read more »
Jane
Jane
7 years 7 months ago

Potentially true Stork, but a shift in the mainstream to primal living would constitute a huge change in, well, pretty much everything. This might include stopping paying farmers to NOT produce/raise foodstuffs and letting them grow and raise foods that fit the PB.

Mel
Mel
7 years 7 months ago

When I was 12, the town near my summer camp flooded. A meticulous schedule of “Color Team Challenge!” mornings became, “Everyone in the bus, we’re going to haul sandbags for four hours!” mornings. Battling the flood was more laborious, and much more rewarding. The health community is often labeled as narcissistic (because, frankly, it’s often true). But Mike brings up a good point that a little personal well-being can make a cumulative difference on the world we live in.

Mike OD - Life Spotlight
7 years 7 months ago

Life is so much more than just looking good. In tough times, we find out the true meaning of that….as we need those tough times to help make us stronger (mentally and physically).

Stork
Stork
7 years 7 months ago

@Evan:
That said, fatties can survive for an awful long time on their stored bodyfat without eating anything whatsoever. I’d imagine they’d fair much better than skinny people. Sure, we may be stronger and able to run further but how does that help? Not like we’ll be catching wildebeast.

JD
JD
7 years 7 months ago

Great column; excellent thoughts from Mark and Mike.

Eddie
Eddie
7 years 7 months ago

Are the shirts in the photo available ?
TIA,
Eddie

Kevan
Kevan
7 years 7 months ago

The idea of being fit to be able to handle emergency situations is a good idea, and there are a few interesting people who have been proponents of this idea. Check out these sites for a little more info:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_H%C3%A9bert

http://www.menshealth.com/cda/article.do?site=MensHealth&channel=fitness&category=motivation&conitem=7d7caa4e23adf110VgnVCM10000013281eac____&page=2

http://movnat.com/

Nate - Fit-Life Online
7 years 7 months ago
As an Infantry officer in the Army, I’m sure you can imagine that fitness is a big part of what we do, and one of the few places where you might actually “need to be fit to survive.” Despite this fact, I can’t tell you how many overweight guys I see walking around in uniform. I have actually had to counsel soldiers on their weight before. I have started pushing the primal blueprint with my platoon. I keep all of PT short and intense, and I try to explain the benefits of a primal diet to them. We’ll see if… Read more »
George
7 years 7 months ago

One of my newest reasons to stay fit – to enjoy the hard work that goes into my orchard!

damaged justice
damaged justice
7 years 7 months ago

Evan – Was it Dmitry Orlov’s Social Collapse: Best Practices?

Mark – One of your best. Thanks as always!

zestycook
7 years 7 months ago

Great article Mark!

Evan
7 years 7 months ago

damaged justice: YES, that’s the one. Thanks!

Danielle T
Danielle T
7 years 7 months ago
When I saw the pic and title I thought maybe the post was going to be about Grok’s love life! Yes, purpose. Being strong enough to shlep sand bags in an emergency is useful and real. The primal life probably gives many of us the energy and vigor to serve others well day in and day out (as parents, teachers, business leaders or whatever). And although these sorts of roles and the tasks they require may be routine, I think there’s something to be said for doing them well–with a bounce in one’s step, patience, creativity and a smile. Being… Read more »
Kash
Kash
7 years 7 months ago
Kinda funny just earlier today befor reading this article, At my highschool in my 2nd period alot of my friends were talking about how lazy they are and how in volleyball they couldn’t drop and do any push ups, and it made me think WHAT IF every one was in good shape, and that with personal developement, people could learn to Enjoy personal challenge, not dread it. If every one could apply themselves to help others, wouldn’t it be an amazing society? i discussed this idea with my classmates, they totally blamed society’s flaws on technology, which is an okay… Read more »
Emily
Emily
7 years 7 months ago

I recently came across an interesting survey asking Whihc stresses you out more: Your Weight or the Economy? For many women, the daily stress of appearance and weight can take a lot of energy.
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=s_2b2ZePLWCN08FO_2bXqQB_2bvg_3d_3d

In
In
7 years 7 months ago

Mark
Great post. This touches on an important topic that few think about.

In economics it is well known that human capital is a huge factor in how prosperous a society is. The kind of improvements seen by primal adherents suggests that human capital can be raised to a certain extent just by changing lifestyle in fairly simple ways. Imagine if even 20% of the population were primal. I really wonder what effect that would have on society at large?

Milemom
Milemom
7 years 7 months ago
Amen! In fact, I’ve always hated the covers of Shape and Fitness because they never show women DOING anything. I want to see how their fit bodies help them in daily life. Personally, I’ve always wanted to be fit and at my goal weight SO I COULD THINK OF SOMETHING ELSE…as Emily said, women spend an awful lot of time thinking about it. One last note: after Sept. 11th, I read an article about a woman who had just lost 86 lbs w. Weight Watchers… she said she never would been able to walk down 86 flights of stairs…AND LIVE…… Read more »
JD
JD
7 years 7 months ago

“We “health nuts” are the weird ones; those people wheezing and huffing through the relief effort are the norm. Eating well and regular exercise are aberrations”

And the irony is staggering.

Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 7 months ago
Good points! I have been sorting the garden and all was going well until I did some weeding, mainly squatting and crouching under bushes. The first day I got away with it but the second day was fierce, I could only manage half what I expected before I was bent into a permanent C shape. The legs were OK but obviously I have missed some lower back muscles. This would have seriously limited my sandbag production. When the ache has worn off (probably tomorrow) I have these compost piles to turn over, that should train the muscle groups I appear… Read more »
Mattman
Mattman
6 years 3 months ago
I do Parkour and one of its sayings is “Be strong to be useful”. It’s all well and good doing all this PB stuff to stay healthy, look good, etc but if you needed to be able to fireman carry someone to the hospital or something in an emergency then you need to call in all your training and power in order to carry out such a task, it could save someones’ life one day. I’m happy to say I could probably deal with a situation such as the above without so much as a hitch 🙂 Always happy to… Read more »
Lou Emison
Lou Emison
5 years 7 months ago

Hello, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, awesome blog!

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