When was it Advantageous for our Ancestors to have Stress Slow Down their Metabolism? Is it helpful or harmful in our era?
Recently, IDEA Fit’s Home Page had an article that discussed a study about how stress causes the metabolism to slow down and results in fat storage and weight gain. Surprisingly, this is not new news. In fact, through Darwinism, our cavemen and cavewomen ancestors needed this physical ability to help them survive some of the harshest conditions. Do you know why? Is this now a case where there is no application for this particle physical adaptation or perhaps it can still help some people in our world survive or even your every day joe, in the right circumstances. Maybe, instead of labeling stress as “bad”, we need to learn how to better manage our stress with all the pressure of society and utilize stress at the right time. What are your thought? How do you manage your stress in healthy coping ways?
I think the type of stress you are referring to is different in our era from that of our early ancestors. Today our stress comes mostly from financial and social factors where our ancestors’ stress was primarily as a result of facing deadly threats from other predators and mother nature, so they had to do whatever it took in order to survive. I believe our stress today is due primarily to human behavior rather that an external factor (such as an animal or natural disasters) and it’s more harmful from the stress our ancestors had to face with. Also our diet today has played a factor in elevating the stress in our bodies.
Our ancestors were in a much better physical condition than the vast majority of us today. Even the elite athletes are far from the physical condition our ancestors used to be. When you have nature breathing down your neck every second of your life you become more efficient, more resilient and more resourceful in variety of ways. The stress of survival actually helped with the evolution of the human body and mind and it was very beneficial for species. The stress that we impose to ourselves today has the opposite effect which has lead to many diseases and other psychological issues that requires very different copying mechanisms.
It’s true that exercise and good diet can help us deal with our stressful lives, but unless we change the way we live, behave and think even these small changes will eventually have little effect. Unless you are able to isolate yourself (or at the very least be strong enough mentally and then physically) form the rest of the society and its problems, the stress form this interaction will eventually take its toll.
It would be interesting to see what others think.
you bring up a very good conversation topic.
As humans, we seem to be the only species that is able to create a stressful environment and make our own stress by conjuring up what-ifs. To those we then respond as we would to the real thing. One of my favorite lines on the subject goes as follows:
Question: Imagine that a tiger jumped at you from behind a corner. What would you do?
Answer: Stop imagining it.
As trainers, we are often the calm in the storm of our clients lives as their caveman’s responses interact with the world they create. It has been well-proven that stress is at its greatest when people perceive a lack of control over the situation they are facing. One of my constant reminders (to others and myself) is that we still have a choice on how to think about a situation. This way puts us back into the control seat, even in the presence of truly stressful situations.
To me personally, I try to disconnect myself as much as possible from stressors. The 24-hour news broadcast brings disasters into our living-room around the clock, and only the bad news make the news. This creates the perception of an environment where people often constantly feel threatened by all the bad that is out there in the world. But there is a solution to that: the TV has an ‘off’ button.
I am curious about the other responses.
It seems to me that the concept of stress as we look at it goes back to Hans Selye, in the 1920s. He called it the ‘Syndrome of Just Being Sick’. For him stress was the response of the body to a demand to adapt to a change.
What I tell my yoga students often is that stress is not their enemy, nor is relaxation their savior. They balance each other. Without demands we would not build muscles, or run races, or learn new math problems, or walk on the moon, or build a solar car. But if you can never return to baseline (homeostasis) you will burn up.
I think it is like going into a workshop to build a bookshelf. You pick up and use a hammer and make your shelf. But if when you are done you cannot put it down you will have a rather difficult time washing your dishes…. or your hair.
Most people who study the stress response would say that the issue is that the mind/body mechanism, as it relates to stress developed in an age when most things that took us out of our baseline required a physical response, and so our bodies are adapted for such a response. That is why exercise is so important…. it helps reset.
Seems to me I did a blog post on yoga and stress a while back if anyone is interested.
Hello Alex Wisch,
The harder I try the harder it gets.
Our ancestors had many emergency situations and harsh weather to deal with where a slow metabolism kicks in for survival. There are cultures who still need and use that quality today: they are the people who live naturally, without technology and sedentary habits. They are also living in war and impoverished areas.
Generally, for the population today, we have a use for that quality but destroy the benefit with our sedentary lifestyle. With life being so much easier, that quality is not needed as often, which escalates our health risk when adding in immobility by choice.
This goes back to the harder I try, the harder it gets. Let go of trying to do everything and stick to the priorities of food, shelter and clothing. Otherwise, there is no time for leisure which leads to burnout, or rather, stress. By the way, leisure time does not include more technology; I am thinking active rest and the company of loved ones.
Natalie aka NAPS 2 B Fit.