For all the workout fads, trendy diets, and quick-fix supplement promises we’re inundated with, deep down, we know that optimal health is as simple as eating well and exercising regularly. Or is it?
According to a theory investigated by journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney in his book What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength, a piece of the puzzle is missing.
The theory suggests that our body needs environmental stress. like hot and cold temperatures, in addition diet and exercise in order to attain optimal health. Why? Because our ancestors evolved to survive the physical challenges of a harsh world – a world modern technology and conveniences completely shields us from.
Carney’s approach to health goes hand-in-hand with the popular Paleo style of eating. Both believe that if a caveman wouldn’t eat it or do it, neither should you. For adherents to the Paleo diet, that means only eating what ancient Homo Sapiens could have eaten: meats, fish, nuts, eggs, fruits, veggies, seeds, and absolutely no grains, sugar, or processed foods.
In environmental conditioning, the same idea applies. Our species was originally designed to move – to hunt, seek shelter, flee predators, etc – but most of us have detrimentally sedentary lifestyles now. We’re comfortable, but that comfort might be killing us.
“With no challenge to overcome, frontier to press, or threat to flee from, the humans of this millennium are overstuffed, overheated, and understimulated,” Carney writes.
Carney and others believe reincorporating environmental challenges, like swimming in icy water, into our lives could have significant health benefits. There has been some scientific evidence to support the theory, and anecdotally, practitioners report benefits as big as relief from symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
However, as Kevin Loria notes for Business Insider, it’s hard to tell if these benefits are real or a result of the placebo effect, and they can be extremely dangerous without the proper training, preparation, and guidance.
But with the popularity of Paleo and balls-to-the-wall training styles like CrossFit, it wouldn’t be a total surprise if environmental conditioning started catching on.