One of the reasons we decided to buy a farm and move to the country is to be outdoors more, whether working or playing. Certainly one of the attractions that drew me to this area is the proximity to many excellent rock climbing areas--Stone Mountain, the New River Gorge, Looking Glass Rock, Linville Gorge, etc. Also the Blue Ridge mountains, which turn into the Great Smokies as they run south and west, offer plenty of hiking, kayaking, trail running and other opportunities for outdoor recreation. I definitely plan to take advantage of all of this, whether it's spending more time climbing or foraging for mushrooms.
On a more modest scale, I have simply enjoyed being outside working on my property in the morning and evening after finishing work this week. It's nice to hear the neighbors' horses and cattle, and the occasional crunch of tires on the dirt access road, but not the constant drone of traffic and suburban noise I never really got used to. It feels really good to get outside after sitting at a desk for hours at a time, to feel the sun on the skin, and the air gradually gettting cooler as the work progresses at its own pace.
I've been averaging about five hours a day so far this week double-digging our vegetable garden, and while there's a pleasant ache when I lie down in bed, I'm not exhausted. In fact, I have more energy now than after finishing a day's work at the office and looking at a 45-minute commute or the prospect of trying to rouse myself for a workout at an over-crowded climbing gym.
Physical labor, especially outdoors, is what our bodies have been designed for, in many respects. It's no surprise, then, that when we don't get enough exercise and fresh air, we get sick, physically as well psychically and emotionally. Throughout most of the course of our evolutionary history, humans have been hunter-gatherers. For the last few thousand years, many of us have been farmers or agriculturalists in some respect.
It's only in the last generation or two that an increasingly urbanized population, at least here in the US, have worked whole careers at desk jobs requiring minimal physcial activity. With that and the labor saving devices and factory food of the post-World War II era have come epidemic rates of chronic lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Some of the diet and exercise fads that have been making the rounds lately have provided some food for thought on the topic. The paleo diet, at least Mark Sisson's version of it in his "Primal Blueprint," touches on these points, although a lot of his ideas come off as pop-science. Another popular book, Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run," which spawned the trend of barefoot running, impressed me more. His examination of the running culture of the legendary Tarahumara tribe in Mexico--a people who casually run ultramarathons--ultimately concludes, with the investigations of anthropologists studying a group in Africa, that humans have evolved the biological equipment to run long distances through a genetic history of chasing down game.
E.O. Wilson, in his theory of biophilia, has gone so far as to suggest that humans have an innate biological need for interacting with the other living things, but especially the natural world. There is evidence to back this up. For example, it's been shown that patients in hospital rooms with a view of a park or natural enclosure heal faster and have better clinical outcomes than patients who don't.
In my mid-twenties I discovered rock climbing and running after reaching a low point brought on by smoking a pack a day, working long and strange hours at a pointless job, eating fast food every day, not getting any exercise, and pretty much living an extreme version of the conditions of modern life that many people take for granted every day. Since then, I've become more and more acutely aware of how important time spent outdoors in nature really is to my own health and sanity.
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