Last week, I told you why working outside – at least from time to time – can be helpful, relaxing, and even performance-enhancing. A number of you emailed me directly, or left comments thanking me for the idea. Most people were on board with working outdoors, but mostly in theory, because let’s face it – being outside on a workday with the sun shining and the birds chirping and the breeze blowing sounds fantastic, but how realistic is it, really? Even if you’re able to convince your boss to let you take the work outside, or you find a job that gives you the freedom to work where you like, the logistics of seamlessly moving a traditionally-indoor activity to the outdoors just seem insurmountable. How are you gonna get Internet access? How will you read your emails through the glare of the sun?
We’ve discussed the “nature-deficit disorder” running rampant throughout contemporary society before. Kids are more likely to control characters in video games who explore vast outdoor worlds (and complain about the graphics “not being realistic enough”) rather than get out and explore the real world themselves (which has excellent graphics, a pretty snazzy physics engine, and killer AI). Adults are likely to go entire days without stopping to smell a flower, pluck a leaf, caress a blade of grass, or even see a shred of foliage. We’ve also written about some of the incredible health benefits that occur once people correct that deficit and go forest bathing, or hiking, or commiserating with animals, or even planting a small garden on their property. In other words, a lack of nature seems to cause physical and mental health problems, while an exposure to nature seems to improve physical and mental health.
What’s going on here?
When you’re facing 26.2 miles of hard open road with nothing but a pair of Nikes and your own determination to see you through, you get a little attached to the outcome. In fact, the outcome – the finish line, the win, the PR – sustains you. It drives you. Without the promise of relief it holds, you wouldn’t be here, doing this, running this ridiculous number of consecutive miles. You certainly aren’t going to be savoring each and every step. You won’t be basking in the glory of the toil and immense physical effort as they transpire. You will be anything but present, in the moment; you will be attempting, with all of your mental faculties, to transport yourself to the finish line so that you can finally end the misery of the moment.
Despite its obsessive focus on cholesterol levels as the ultimate arbiter of cardiovascular disease, most of the medical field agrees that plenty of other factors also contribute: tobacco usage, psychosocial stress, activity level, and genetic predispositions. In short, a diverse set of lifestyle and genetic factors are consistently associated with cardiovascular disease. This is accepted in the ancestral health community, just as it’s accepted in the mainstream medical community, but the question remains – why? Why does stress contribute to heart disease? How does smoking tobacco increase the risk of heart disease? Why are both the sedentary and the overtrained at a higher risk for heart disease?
In the comments section of last week’s post on inflammation, many of you expressed a desire for a post explaining how to know if one is actually suffering from systemic, chronic inflammation. I thought that was a great idea and decided to put the other followups on hold so I could tackle this one. Obviously, it’s easy to tell if you’ve got some acute inflammation going on – swelling, pain, heat radiating from a part of your body that’s suddenly assumed a rosy hue, and throbbing open wounds are all blatant indicators of the inflammatory process at work – but tests for markers of inflammation are not yet standard across most medical practices. With that in mind, I’ll be giving info on both objective markers for which you can test, as well as on the subjective markers I use on myself that you can “test” and use to evaluate your own level of inflammation.
Let’s get to it.
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