June 05, 2008

Neanderthal fitness

I don't know if I'm turning into a luddite or suffering from The Call of the Wild.

I expended roughly 200 calories the other day because I mowed the lawn with a push reel mower. (No, not the old ones from 30 years ago that were heavy as a tank -- those really were the epitome of Cranky Fitness. The new ones are so light even I can push one around.) Using a push reel mower instead of a gas-powered one made me feel good, almost as good as I feel when I bicycle to work instead of driving the gas guzzler.

It's surprising how virtuous it feels to be unplugged. Why is that? Am I hankering back to the Olde Days when everyone had to do everything by hand? I can almost hear the ghost of my grandmother telling me I'm crazy. (When my grandmother was young, they traveled in horse-drawn buggies. "Oh," I said, "that must have been fun." She shook her head. "Very bumpy.")

I appreciate the technological stuff like smoothly paved roads and the ability to buy food I can't grow in this climate, and yes, especially the fact that I can communicate electronically with friends I've never met and who live on the other side of the world. I get all that. It's cool.

So why does it feel so good to not use technology? Barbecues might not be very healthy, but food cooked over an open fire smells better and tastes than the microwaved version. We've evolved technologically, but emotionally we're not that far removed from the stone-knives-and-bearskins crowd.

The 'Caveman diet' is popular right now. I'm not passing judgment on this diet yea or nay, but I think one reason it is popular is that people have an urge to get 'back to basics.' Can the urge to exercise unplugged can be traced back to a yearning for an equivalent exercise program?

There really isn't an appealing equivalent for Neanderthal fitness -- at least, not one that fits in with the demands of modern life. I tried to picture merging the Stone Age with the Information Age, and all I could think of was:

0800: Crawl out of cave, discover how to make fire, brew coffee
0900: Work with Ugh on synergistic leveraging strategies
1200: Check out blogs
0100: Try to look busy and productive
0500: Chase mastodon, bring home for Mrs. N to roast

No, that doesn't sound like much fun.

But it's summer! The outdoors is calling!
Great outdoors, on line 1...

Maybe what I'm suffering from is spring fever. Dr. J. wrote a post about the need to experience nature. He quotes E.O. Wilson, an American biologist, researcher, and naturalist postulated, among many environmentalist views, as saying that “humans have an innate, biologically determined need for nature.” By combining exercise with being outdoors, I fulfill a couple of basic needs.

Do you prefer exercising outdoors if you have the chance? Or do the comforts of technology, cable TV and an iPod win out over mosquitoes, sunburn, and fresh air?

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of year, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” - Rachel Carson


  1. May I say it totally depends?
    90 percent of the time Id pick romping with my Behemoth of a Bullmastiff & my Toddler over anything inside.
    who needs a calorie printout when you can judge the length/challenge of your workout by the thickness of the dog's drool?
    and who needs an ipod when you have the Toddler singing (and screaming MAMA SHHH!) when you try to jump in?

    that said, sometimes nothing beats hiding from the heat & humidity like Tivo and a recumbent bike.

    the diet? Id be all in as Im an avowed carnivore.


  2. I LOVE being outdoors, but I seem to have all kinds of "exceptions" that keep me inside. Like heat, rain, and the lack of handy outdoor strength training machines.

    Going for a leisurely walk doesn't feel like a chore, so I'm fine with just me and the outdoors. But getting aerobic, whether running or walking, does seem to require an mp3 player, which is not exactly in tune with the Cave Woman workout plan.

    Great post!

  3. Outdoors EVERY TIME. Even when it's non-stop raining like we have here in Sydney at the moment, I'd prefer to get outside than be cooped up exercising at home. Or even worse, at a gym.

    This morning, despite the rain I went for a walk. I encountered three other people at the park (there's usually a gazillion people walking their dawgs). We all noddded ruefully at each other. And yes it was cold and wet, but I still enjoyed being outside. Still loved looking at the harbour and watching the crazy jumping fish.

    And a hot shower and fresh warm clothes fixes most of the down-sides.

  4. I really love the outdoors, but if it's raining I need a good jacket to keep it off me.

    However there's nothing better than sunshine and a bicycle.

  5. Mark's Daily Apple covered this very topic just yesterday. Check out points two through four of "the primal blueprint".


  6. I prefer the outdoors. But if I'm alone (and I often am when I'm running), I need an iPod. Can't live without it now. Damn you, Apple!

  7. I love being outside, but there are summers when exercise outdoors means outrunning the mosquitoes or doing the mosquito slap dance.

  8. I make a point to get outside every day with my kids. That said, I usually get my exercise indoors. Why? Because my gym has CHILDCARE! Whoohooo! All those people who tell you to exercise with your kids have never tried to get an uniterrupted workout with 3 toddlers.

    Anyhow, I've been dying to make an "experiment" out of Mark's Primal Blueprint (thanks Naomi!) but I can't bring myself to eat meat. But their exercise prescription is certainly intriguing.

  9. I tend to like to work out outside. But like Miz Fit, it totally depends on the heat here in Texas. I love to just shut off the world, no iPod, not cell phone. In a weird way, it makes me feel more connected.

  10. Well, I've complained about the outdoors being full of pollen before. When I can come home not feeling significantly worse than when I set out, I prefer the outdoors. But This! Spring! buying the exercise bike has saved me from two or three months of sloth. Sloth? Migraine? easy choice there.
    I expect to use the bike more than walking even now that I can safely breathe outdoors, because my father wants me within earshot more and more.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  11. Outside, outside, outside. At least, in the summer.
    Even in the winter, when it's mild. When it's -40? Inside, inside, inside!! :)

  12. Sometimes I do an exercise video indoors when it's winter time, but since I live in Georgia it's usually pretty mild. I can be found hoofin' it around the neighborhood with ear muffs and gloves. During the rest of the year (the other 10 months!) I'm outside every single day, with a lovely farmer's tan to boot.

  13. Mark is clearly psychic. Thanks for pointing out his article, which kicks mastodon ass. (Not that I'm saying my ass is the size of a mastodon... well maybe a baby mastodon...)

  14. I think you have one element of the Caveman Exercise schedule slightly wrong:

    "1200: Check out blogs"

    There would be no blogging internet back then .... my suggestion is:

    "1200: Check out logs"

    Yeah must go chop me some more firewood -- how many cals? !!!

  15. I'm trying to think of a caveman equivalent of an iPod. It's so easy to get hooked on using music when you workout, make me think the desire for music is in the genes.
    From an evolutionary point of view, music doesn't seem necessary. But from an emotional point of view, you'll pry that iPod from my cold dead hands, thankyouverymuch

  16. g.b.t.a.f., between chopping logs and shoveling snow, you'll get very fit indeed. (But would you be prepared to run a marathon? I think not.)

  17. Outside...definitely! I do like to do the occasional group fitness class inside, but I would much rather feel like I'm actually going somewhere. Excercising on a treadmill, stationary bike, etc. feels too much like I'm a hamster.

  18. As a product of the city, I much prefer Inside. I love my air conditioned gym with it's treadmills with individual TVs and fans. Also, I like the spinning and other classes that have big fans and AC. The only outdoor exercise I regularly get is my dog walk every morning around 5, before the heat hits. Today, when I left for work at 6:00am it was 93 degrees already. When i do venture outside to exercise, the environment laughs and then punishes me...I'm still nursing poison ivy from playing lacrosse in neighbors backyard for 10 minutes...in April!

  19. But Merry - doesn't running from sabre-toothed tigers qualify you for marathons...?

  20. ok
    Im back
    you have me thinking and I realized (WAITFORIT) it's no longer about the workout for me.
    that Im happy to frolic outdoors in a way I might not have been 20 years ago because it's about the mommy&me time and not my exercise.


  21. Mizfit, that makes sense. Being outdoors is satisfying and playing with your child even more so.
    I think the need to have fun should always be taken seriously :)

    Bag Lady, I should think that any encounters with an SB tiger would train me for the sprint rather than the marathon. But either would work, so long as I'm faster than the tiger!

    Juicebox Mom, I'm trying to picture it being 93 degrees, I'm really trying hard. I think Mother Nature should have arranged things so that I could get /one/ 93 degree day in exchange for you having just one of Portland's cold, rainy days.

    Thebets -- have you ever tried those videos that show you traveling through the countryside while you're on your treadmill? I haven't myself (I'd rather be outdoors too) but I wonder if they work on making the experience less hamster-like.

  22. I couldn't handle the push mower...the pirate language I'd spew out would probably burn off more calories than the mowing...

    I just go for a walk or walk to work...and feel all virtuous. If I don't get outside in the sun often I get all moogy. And runnin by the river beats the crosstrainer any day...even in the rain.

  23. I'm with MizFit that most of the time I'd totally rather be outside. But sometimes it can be nice to just let the technology take over and stick with that.

  24. Geosomin--Moogy is the perfect word for that feeling! I'm gonna have to start using it.

  25. I'm with geosomin--if I wait too long between outdoor workouts, moogy is a pretty good way to describe my feelings. I love running outside, even in the rain & snow (grew up in the Pacific Northwest, if I hated rain I never would've been outside), but the East Coast humidity does get to me in the summer. Then the gym's A/C feels so good...

  26. If it weren't for the outdoors, I wouldn't get as much exercise as I do. Must work on that, because in the long winters we have here I turn into a total sloth.

  27. I have to admit, even though I try not to eat anything Grok the Caveman wouldn't recognize as food, I much prefer to do my 45 minutes of cardio inside, on a treadmill, with a TV or music player, than go outside and take a walk.

    There are BUGS outside! And OTHER PEOPLE! And MOTOR VEHICLES! And it's not even climate controlled!

    I also feel like I'm not working as hard when I'm walking outside for exercise because I naturally slack off without a treadmill to forcibly keep the pace up.

  28. Y'know, I think the whole point is to just kinda get your exercise in by living your life.. Wether it's playing with your kids or walking to work, grocery shopping.. whatever.

    Hate to sound like one of those 'park your car a few blocks away from work' kinda things, but they do have a point.

    I'd say, sell your car, never use a shopping cart again, always take the stairs and don't act like a pussy when there's something heavy to be lift.

    Really, having to sprint to catch my train, carry my groceries, walking all the miles to the shop every other day because i can carry only so many groceries, lifting shit that need lifting because I refuse to ask a guy.. and last but not least, play with kids/friends/have sex/go swimming and that will keep you pretty fit.

    I bet dancing your heart out on a saturday night burns a lot of calories too.

    Hmm, sorry for the long comment, i got carried away ;)

  29. It really depends. On a beautiful day, I do love to get outside. But, if it's not so nice out, or if it's late in the evening and getting dark, or maybe I'm just in the mood to watch TV...I like being able to head down to my trusty treadmill.

    Gardening is also great exercise, and I love digging away in my gardens...again, depending on the weather. And obviously, gardening is a seasonal thing. At least where I live. :)

  30. Outdoors, outdoors, outdoors! If I have to exercise indoors, I'm not very likely to do it, unless I'm EXTREMELY entertained. In other words, I can do a Turbo Jam DVD in my living room, but I'm not going to run on the treadmill - it's boring (even with music). But I'll run outside in almost any weather, even rain. The only time I won't run outside is when it's really hot, because I have a tendency to overheat.

    But running in the park (usually with an iPod, though not always) freakin' ROCKS.

  31. You know, I really need to get outdoors more. Bad weather can be so anxiety-inducing that it's just easier to be inside, but I'm glad I read this post & comments because you're right. There's something about communing with the great outdoors that's just downright healthy.

  32. It's true, there is something primal and important about being out of doors. I'm really grateful I have so many opportunities here. Having spent time in large cities, though visually fascinating, they can at times make the outside a very unpleasant place. I always thought this was an interesting idea.

    Dr. J

  33. I love running outdoors and the idea to practice Yoga outdoors just popped into my mind after reading this post!

    Also-hanging my laundry to dry on a clothesline outdoors rather than in the electric powered tumble dryer makes me feel soo good!

  34. I feel a bit guilty when I exchange my indoor-exercise for outdoors-exercise. Kinda like it doesn't count. But it does. IT DOES. I just have to convince myself of that.


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