For thousands of years, we humans lived active, social lives set primarily in the great outdoors as hunters and gatherers and, later, farmers.  It is only in the past few generations that we have become an industrialized society that lives a much more sedentary, indoor existence; an increasingly less social existence as we continue to rely more and more on avenues like phone, email, texting and social media to communicate and stay connected with each other.   It is the exact opposite of what our lives used to be.  Today, through experience and scientific research, we are learning that this is not at all good for us; that, in fact, much of our mental and physical health issues, such as depression, chronic stress, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and mood disorders is caused by and exacerbated by this new lifestyle we’ve been leading these past few years.

I am not advocating a return to the Stone Age, trust me.  There is a lot that we have gained as a species in our evolution from then until now that I would loathe to give up, no matter what the benefits.  Rather, the challenge is now to find the balance of both worlds; to reincorporate into our new, industrialized way of living some of the old ways that we have lost to our detriment.

Recent scientific research has shown that cavemen (and women) were protected naturally from many of the conditions and issues we face today by three key elements of their way of living:  1.) the time they spent outside in nature 2.) their physical activity (exercise)  3.  an abundance of social, human to human contact.  The next question is how do we incorporate more of these elements into our lives now?  I know that many of you reading this post lead very busy lives.  Most of us are way too busy, myself included.  But this is too important to shrug off with “I’m too busy.”  Getting sick, either physically, mentally, or both, will surely make a bigger dent in your ability to accomplish your tasks than scheduling some time to exercise, spend time outdoors, and socialize.  The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a ton of time.  A few (4-6) hours a week will go a long way.

A great way to incorporate these key elements is to combine them.  For instance, you could go for a bike ride, a walk, or a run with a group of friends outside.  To be clear, it is important to be in as natural a setting as possible.  If you live in a city, find a park and do the exercise / physical activity there.  There is also a wonderful new trend of outdoor fitness classes.  They are usually group classes, which makes them social, and they often take place in parks and other natural settings.  For those of you who are in our area, Evolution Fitness of Cherry Hill, NJ runs a great outdoor class every Wednesday and Saturday.  Below is a short video of one of the classes.

Another way to incorporate these key elements is to bring them into activities you already do.  For instance, if you are someone who works on the computer a lot, why not bring your laptop to a local park and do your work there?  If you are someone who already exercises a lot, say at a local gym, why not exercise outside on the days you are not strength training?  You could run, walk, bike, or just do a stretch and recover workout.  If you get together with friends and family on a regular basis (which is great), maybe you could try to do more active, outdoorsy things with them like go on a hike and then have a picnic; or just have a picnic and play a game of touch football or volleyball or soccer.

Another great way to help incorporate these key elements is to do them “in bulk” so to speak.  This is geared more towards the being in nature and socializing elements, as it is not good to exercise for too long a period of time, and results will be best with shorter, more regular workouts.  But, say you have a “free” day, on Sunday perhaps, and you could spend 3 or 4 hours outside with friends or family, one hour of which could be doing physical activity.  That would do a lot to carry you through to the next week, leaving you able to spend maybe only 10 – 15 minutes each day outside, which might be more manageable in your schedule.

In conclusion, there are many different ways to incorporate these key three elements of nature time, human to human social time, and physical activity into your everyday life.   It is of the utmost importance to do so.  It will increase your health and happiness ten fold, and we could all use a little more of those things.  It’s all about finding the balance that works for you.