Being pregnant is tough – or so I hear. You’re tasked with creating a child, with actually building an entire human being bit by bit from scratch. You have to carry that child, even as it grows to seven, eight, or even nine pounds or more inside your body. And all the while, your body seems to be rebelling against “what is best.” You want to eat the best food and get the right exercise and do all the right things, but what happens when your body fights you? What are you supposed to do when all you can stomach are mac and cheese and tortilla chips? For the first section, I try to help a woman in her first trimester with these issues. Next, I discuss the question of retinol overload from dietary liver, along with whether or not we need to worry about nutrient density in other organs, too. And finally, I give my take on a recent NY Times piece on barefoot running that seemed to call its usefulness and relevance into question.
Ever since Mark linked to that Men’s Health feature by Christopher McDougall on Erwan Le Corre and his MovNat system a few years ago, I’ve been interested in it. I saw the videos of a barefoot, shirtless Erwan lithely moving from rock to rock, climbing cliffs, leaping from high places, sprinting, diving, and moving fallen trees. His interview describing the plight of the “zoo human” and what to do about it really resonated with me, so I began trying to work MovNat-esque training into my life. It seemed like a good fit. Outdoorsy stuff has always been my thing, and I’ve never been one to avoid dirt. I didn’t make natural movement a huge priority, instead focusing more on weights, but I always kept it in my thoughts and played around with it whenever the opportunity arose.
“Just go barefoot.”
How many times have you heard that from the dude with big calves, wide feet, and soles like supple calf skin? (Hmm, that came out weirder than I imagined.) Or maybe you’re that guy, and you’ve said it. Heck, I’ve probably said something to that effect before. It’s a casual recommendation that we long-term barefooters toss around… but maybe we shouldn’t. (Heresy!) Okay – bear with me, here. Everyone agrees that shoelessness is the foot’s natural state, and that getting to a place where you can enjoy that natural state is ideal. Natural isn’t always synonymous with good, but in the case of the human foot – a sensitive, capable, highly mobile appendage packed with innumerable nerve endings, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and fascia that responds and reacts to the environment as you walk and/or run – natural is almost certainly desirable. The human foot is pretty amazing, and sticking it inside a restrictive shoe obscures that fact. I think we can agree on that.
I’ve written before about the benefits of going barefoot. Anatomically speaking, it’s the best thing you can do for your feet. Lately, however, I’ve been wading through a theory that suggests we have more to gain from ditching footwear than a more natural gait. In a book called Earthing, authors Clinton Ober, Martin Zucker and Dr. Stephen T. Sinatra put forth a bold proposal that body-to-earth contact has the power to directly impact our health. At the heart of their theory is a central physics-based relationship. Since the advent of shoes, houses, flooring, and elevated beds, we’ve lost our contact with the earth and its inherent electrical field. In discarding (or minimizing) this physical connection, we’re forgoing natural healing benefits that previously played a significant role in our physiological functioning. The body, when grounded in the earth, returns to its natural electrical homeostasis as part of the living electrical matrix. It’s an intriguing theory with, as yet, little attention. Is attention warranted though? Is it really the “most important health discovery ever,” as the authors suggest?
At first glance, this title probably threw you off. I mean, a guide to walking? Are we moderns really that dysfunctional that we can’t even walk correctly? C’mon, Sisson – you must be out of ideas.
Bear with me, here.
It may seem silly to need a definitive guide to walking, but I think we do. First off, walking is no longer necessary for basic everyday survival. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the average person reading this blog can get by just fine without walking more than a couple hundred yards each day. Whether via buses, trains, cars, bikes, or delivery services, you’re not going to starve or die of thirst just because you don’t or can’t walk. I’ll argue that walking is an essential human activity that we ignore to our ultimate detriment, but millions of people do exactly that and think nothing of it. Progress? In a wider societal sense, sure. But on an individual level, people still need to walk.
Dr. Loren Cordain and a few MD colleagues have recently published a paper (PDF) called “Organic Fitness: Physical Activity Consistent with Our Hunter-Gatherer Heritage.” It makes for a great companion piece to Primal Blueprint Fitness, and it encapsulates quite nicely the breadth of research into the physical activities of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Read the whole thing. There’s probably nothing really new to you guys already well-versed in this stuff, but it’s good having it all in one space, and it’s good having it from more sources (not just me). If someone ever asks you why you go barefoot, avoid weight machines, squat below parallel (don’t you know it’s bad for your knees!?!), go on hikes for fun without sunscreen, and hate treadmills, you can send along a nice, neat package including the PBF eBook and the Cordain paper. This isn’t a “nyah, nyah, proven right again!” type thing (well, kinda). This is a “buttressing the incoming unavoidable inexorable impossible-to-ignore flood of evidence in favor of listening to evolution in matters of health and fitness” type thing. The times they are a changin’, eh?
Anyway, let’s get to the meaty bits of the paper – to what they call the “fundamental elements of ‘organic exercise,’ which may serve as a template from which to design a fitness strategy for adults living in today’s modern industrialized culture.” I’ve bolded and italicized their words (from a section of which the title of this article is derived) and followed up with my commentary: