Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

Why we wave our arms when we talk on the phone; Ancient bodies in a modern world

In many ways, human behavior and biology is discordant with the modern world. We spend the majority of our time in air-conditioned buildings and vehicles instead of allowing our bodies to adjust to colder or warmer temperatures. We move in vehicles at speeds our brains never evolved to process (hence the hundreds of thousands of accidents per year). The majority of our waking time is spent sitting (computer work, TV watching, eating, reading, etc.) instead of moving around, hunting, and gathering like our not too distant ancestors. Most of our communications with others is through phone or computer communications instead of face to face. We consume 15% or more of our daily calories from sugar, instead of the 5% or less our ancestors likely consumed (a big contributor to the obesity epidemic). In short, our brains and bodies are not wired for the stimuli we are giving them every hour of every day. As a result, our bodies and brains break down and we exhibit very strange behaviors.

If you have ever seen someone walking down the street or standing at the aiport speaking with someone on their cellphone, you know what I mean. While speaking with someone many miles away, most people will gesticulate with their arms and hands as if the person at the other end of the line is standing in front of them. Watch any kid play an action based video game, and they will contort their body wildly to try to "move" their online character. These are just some harmless examples of our ancient brains and bodies trying to make sense of the modern world.

Unfortunately, there are many negative and harmful examples of this evolutionary discordance with the modern world:

  • Many people simply can't be active outside most of the year because their body and brain cannot adjust to any temperature but a "goldilocks zone" of 60-78 degrees (the temperature range most of us keep homes and offices). As a result, most people are inactive and indoor bound, contributing to vitamin D deficiencies, obesity, and even degrading gut health.
  • Too much sitting also contributes to obesity, in addition to neck, back and leg problems, circulation issues and nerve problems.
  • Our ingestion of massive amounts of sugar from sodas, sweets, processed foods, sauces and dips contribute to blood sugar problems, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.
  • Driving or riding in a vehicle is an all out assault on our primitive brain and biology. We sit for long periods. Our stress levels are in overdrive (pun intended) because we have to constantly be aware of our own and other vehicles moving at very high speeds. Our reaction time, even sober and well rested, is simply not well tuned to the speeds and size of vehicles. When driving long periods, most of us eat fast food, which contributes even more to our health problems.
  • Using artificial light, especially late at night, disturbs our sleep patterns, increases stress levels, and is thought to contribute to many diseases.

Fortunately, positive solutions to this evolutionary discordance are evident if we look at each modern behavior and deduce behaviors that are more in tune with our ancient bodies and brains:

  • Spend more time outside. Be in nature. Walk in the grass. Get your hands dirty. Your vitamin D levels will increase, your exposure to beneficial bacteria will be restored, your physical activity levels will increase. Your health will improve.
  • Eat whole foods. Reduce sugary and processed foods in your diet. Eat quality meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, etc.
  • Play. There is a fundamental human need to play, preferably outside. Play reduces stress, burns calories, and increases human interaction.
  • Talk to live human beings whenever possible. There is no need to be a luddite and eschew technology. I use technology everyday for work and recreation. Just don't use technology as an excuse not to have human interaction.
  • Build tolerance to the vagaries of temperature changes. Go outside when it is hot and when it is cold. it is ok to sweat a bit or be cold for awhile.
  • Lift heavy things once in awhile. We need a fairly intense stimulus from time to time so our muscles and bones do not atrophy.
  • Go to bed earlier, and turn off lights even before that. Try to get 7 or more hours of sleep.

Bottom Line: Be aware that we live in an age that is not in synch with how our bodies and brains evolved. Take the actions above and your body will reward you with better health and possibly a longer, happier life.

Posted January 24, 2019 by Tim Rankin