Recently my lovely daughter-in-law, Colleen, gave me a book, Younger Next Year. It has exercising advice for people over fifty. I’m really enjoying it and making changes in my exercise program. Much of what follows is taken directly from the book.

The focus of Younger Next Year is on how our bodies are oriented toward keeping us healthy. However, that focus is based on our evolution, which differs dramatically from our current lifestyle. The authors state that the human body is not some neat, integrated design. It is composite of parts that were taken from nature; parts that evolved from different species over millions and even billions of years. The only parts that are exclusively human are our opposable thumb and a few extra pounds of brain tissue. Everything else is from another species, no not chimps, but bacteria, dinosaurs, birds, worms, gazelles, lions … and the list goes on.

The messages that make these cells work are not the stuff of scientific or literary thought. They are electrical and chemical signals that predate the dawn of consciousness by eons of time. They are part of our physical brain, not our emotional brain nor our thinking brain. They were perfectly designed to help us live in the natural world, but were not designed for fast food, TV or retirement. Our bodies are gifts from trillions of these ancestor-cells, and the fact that we are alive today means every single one of them survived.

The problem is that they survived because they were perfectly suited to our past lifestyle, namely, hunting and foraging. While hunting, we spent a lot of energy in a shorter amount of time chasing and killing wild game. When foraging, we spent less energy over a longer amount of time gathering plants, berries and other edibles. The combination of these exercise lifestyles left us physically lean, powerful and efficient.

That was in the spring, summer and fall. Winter, however, was a different story; longer hours of darkness, colder temperatures, less food. It was a period of slow starvation and less activity. We survived because our bodies slowed down, we became somewhat depressed and didn’t expend as much energy on activity, and probably slept more hours each day. Our bodies were in the decaying mode in the winter months. But when the next springtime-summer-fall arrived, we flourished once again.

Flash forward to 2013. What is our mode of life like today? Is it more like spring-summer-fall? Or is it like winter? Winter is the correct answer. Low-grade depression combined with physical decay is our lifestyle mode, unfortunately. We are not getting enough physical activity.

You might ask, isn’t this just nature’s way? The answer is a resounding NO! This physical decay is not caused by aging, it is caused by our lifestyle choices. Our lifestyle choices cause our bodies to go into the ‘winter’ mode. Our bodies send out so many winter-mode signals that the sum of their traffic is greater than the total of all internet messages and telephone calls in the world each day.

Exercise, proper exercise, is the only way to change the messages being sent out by our bodies. The recommended exercises are walking, which is analogous to foraging, mixed in with weight training and strenuous exercise like running or swimming, which simulate hunting. Walking should be the largest part, three or four times a week. Strenuous exercise and weight training should make up the other two or three, depending on how often you decide to exercise. Each workout should last forty-five to sixty minutes, including warm up and cool down periods.

Now you know why you spent all those hours working out like crazy at the gym and never lost weight. Strenuous workouts tell your body to eat more food and build up muscle mass. They don’t reduce the fat cells around the waist. On the other hand, walking at a moderate pace works on the fat cells, but doesn’t build up much muscle. Combining both types of exercise is best.

If you want more information on how to work in unison with your physical ancestors to get fit, read Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D.

Next blog: Soul Retrievals