A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. — Max Planck
Novus ordo seclorum: a new order of the ages is born. — Vergil
Our only security is our ability to change. — John C. Lilly, MD
The New Medical Fitness Revolution
An unprecedented groundswell movement in health care grows exponentially at the grassroots level. Originating in a new paradigm forged by synergistic meeting of anthropology and medicine in the 1980s, it is known as evolutionary medicine — with a smaller associated movement that should be named evolutionary exercise physiology. Evolutionary medicine, in turn, spawned in less than the last ten years the popular Paleo Diet movement. Starting first with several related books in the mid 2000s, one can now fill a bookshelf with popular Paleo movement books. Strengthening rapid development of the movement are blogs and social media, and a growing number of local ‘meet up’ groups.
By means of discussion between physicians and medical professors meeting with anthropologists, a new paradigm of health and fitness emerges. Orthodox medicine reflects ideas of disease known in modern Western civilizations, most all non-communicable diseases. Anthropological input determines extant hunter/gatherer cultures’ vocabularies don’t include our diseases because they rarely, if ever, get them. That recognition forced passionate inquiry aided by new sciences of genetics and molecular biology applied to knowledge of the profound differences in diet and activity between Western civilization and hunter/gatherers.
We know today that regular, challenging exercise fine tunes our bodies to operate closely like today’s hunter/gatherers. After all, the human genome remains 99.7% just the same as it was 100,000 years ago: we have not changed genetically and we have profoundly altered activity and diets of nutrient dense foods. When active, we signal 60% of our 20,000 genes for healthy expression. Evolutionary medicine quickly concluded the rapidly increasing pandemic of chronic degenerative diseases raging through the West today are diseases of civilization — hence, unnatural causes of illness and death.
Eroding Medical Legitimacy
While both evolutionary medicine and its Paleo movement offspring are in their youth, they’re growing up fast. As they grow, a kind of global mind change occurs.
Rooted in willingness to take on new options in personal health matters is a growing diminishment of public credibility regarding orthodox medicine. The health care industry accounts for 18% of the domestic national product: it’s a big business with monopolistic characteristics. Most of all, orthodox medicine is very expensive. Its credibility erodes in face of an unchecked rising tide of chronic degenerative diseases. As just one example, on September 13th, 2011 the 47th annual meeting of the International Diabetes Foundation and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes announced the number of people diagnosed with and dying from diabetes continues “on a relentlessly upward trajectory.” International studies reveal in 2011 the number of people with diabetes has reached an astonishingly 366 million. In 2011, 4.6 million deaths will be assigned to diabetes, and with healthcare costs reaching $465 billion. One person dies from diabetes every 7 seconds! That’s just one of 35 chronic degenerative diseases. At best, orthodox medicine can diagnose those conditions, most likely placing sufferers on prescriptions which slow down symptoms — a disease maintenance program that can be thought of as a kiss of death. Of greatest importance is the fact most of our contemporary degenerative diseases were hardly known in 1950 — their growth occurred only in the past 60 years.
Simply put, orthodox medicine keeps losing the war against contemporary disease while charging staggering costs for no remedies. Worse still, orthodox medicine is not held accountable for its gross failings for doing its job. In our culture, orthodox medicine reigns supreme with an unquestionable authority; however, disease statistics stand as a significant and undeniable basis of that authority being unearned and undeserved.
Evolutionary medicine views our pandemic diseases as diagnoses of secondary and tertiary symptoms, and then looks upstream for primary causes. Evolutionary medical intervention addresses today’s presenting symptoms in relation to yesterday’s primary insults to your healthy balance. Evolutionary medicine’s growing legitimacy rests on successful treatment of primary causes, often at most requiring pharmaceuticals only in the short term. Treating primary causes moves us from life long maintenance to arresting and reversing symptoms. Many a personal diagnosed with type II diabetes has enjoyed successful arresting and reversal of that diagnosis in three short months with the Paleo type of diet and fitness training.
Important distinctions must be noted – distinctions you’ll need to imbed within your thinking. Ever become fluent in a second language? Learning a second language is one way we make a paradigm shift: the world doesn’t change with a second language but the way we talk about it and conceptualize it certainly does change a lot. There’s a crucial point in moving from having to translate in your head all that’s heard and read in a second language: at some time, you begin to ‘just understand.’ Those times are great, especially when you automatically understand puns and jokes — you find yourself laughing. Paradigm shifting is very much like that. So dramatically steeped are we in our civilization’s subtleties regarding health, fitness, and diet, you’ll find you keep going back to the very ways of thinking you want to grow out of: that’s fine, that’s part of the transition. Fluency comes about.
New Breed Fitness
An important distinction has to be taken to heart. Health is not fitness, and fitness is not health.
In biology and anthropology, fitness bears a very special meaning related to the survival of a species. Fitness means reproductive fitness. For a species to survive, it must gain survival skills and then pass those skills on to its offspring. The genetic basis of our human fitness remains 99.7% just the same way it was 100,000 years ago. Key to successful fitness is the same today as it was long ago in ancestral times: nutrient dense food and physical activity. Both signal our genes to sequence or produce healthy, life bestowing proteins. Inactivity creates sends signals to the same genes resulting in unhealthy metabolic results. In order words, fitness amounts to living in respectful compliance with our genetic make up. Your life depends on living the life you were given!
Health is another matter. Since the old paradigm of health care is that of orthodox medicine, I’m confining use of the word health to where we learned it from, the source of the information we take for granted about health. For decades, the officially often heard definition of health has been ‘the absence of disease.’ That’s hardly a definition while bordering on an insult to our intelligence. Basic to that definition is the sense that health is somehow like a vacuum, an absence condition! Going further, however, the definition makes abundantly good sense in a medicine whose chief orientation is toward pathological or disease conditions: you’re okay or healthy if you’re not diseased.
Here’s where that notion of health fails your fitness. Orthodox medicine is well equipped to discover disease; however, evolutionary medicine knows such diseased states have been building up in the background for some time. For example, conditions ripening as type II diabetes may have been in process for twenty years prior to diagnosis. In that respect your fitness has been slowly but steadily waning for several decades. That makes it clear that pronouncements of being healthy can be made without diagnostic testing for slow erosion processes — health can misdiagnosis eroding fitness, hence not arrest or prevent later disease blossoming.
Health is not fitness. Health is a medical term meaning absence of detectable disease. The key word is detectable. Early and acute degeneration is not tested for, hence not detected. Fitness prevents degeneration. Where “normal” health is a plus in medicine, it amounts to abnormal unfitness for Physical Culture 2.0. Evolutionary exercise physiologists recognize throughout our long history, our condition of fitness made us look like athletes. The pre-steroid era bodybuilders, power lifters, track and field athletes bear the look of a fit human being. The trouble with our modern standard is that what it regards as normal today is genetically abnormal and the basis of disease for humans: normal is abnormal. To gain a sense of what normal and fit meant to our ancestors, Greek art depicts their normal men and women looking like what we’d think of as fitness models and athletes today!
New Breed Fitness
Physical Culture 2.0 is a new paradigm of fitness and well being, a radical departure from classical and modern versions of physical culture. Older physical culture trained you for strength and health. With roots in the new sciences of evolutionary medicine and exercise physiology, Physical Culture 2.0 recognizes fitness as your innate genetic potential, gaining rich expression with nutrient dense diet and robust physical activity starting from birth and sustained throughout life. In other words, fitness is our natural human condition — as long as we live congruently with our nature.
Work of Evans & Rosenberg of Tufts University performed in the 1980s demonstrated a major culprit in our civilization’s decline to be muscle wasting (sarcopenia) — specifically wasting of type II strength muscle. Long thought a normal condition of aging, those researchers revealed muscle wasting plays a key role in premature aging and onset of Metabolic Syndrome. Of their Ten Determinants of Aging, maintaining muscular strength topped the list. Loss of strength muscle plays a leading role in disease onset — including type II diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, arthritis, obesity, heart disease, depression, and loss of cognitive skills. Muscle wasting in an early symptom of metabolic breakdown, and should become a primary diagnostic tool.
Fitness: An Inconvenient Truth
Nearly twenty years later, findings of the Tufts’ group has not been incorporated into popular news or medical practice. It counts among a list of inconvenient truths — truths if taken seriously mandate a call to action, some not without serious economic consequences to mainstream medical business.
Frank Booth, faculty of the University of Missouri Department of Biological Sciences, remains a major contributor to genetic, molecular biology and exercise physiology and their impact of health. His list of professional publications runs for 21 single spaced typed pages. His extensive publications reveal how modern society mandates living in disharmony with our genetic nature, resulting in what he calls SeDS or the Sedentary Death Syndrome. His large volume of work has yet to reach the very public need it most. A contributor to ancestral health, he’s not even known among the Paleo movement perhaps since his revelations dethrone diet alone as a panacea silver bullet.
As a society, no where in our upbringing are we educated in matters of personal fitness. The single most pressing challenge facing survival of the human species is a comprehensive system of fitness education giving birth to a new breed of fitness educators.
We’re told to seek physician advice and permission before undertaking a fitness program of physical activity. Given that physician education does not include course work in either nutrition or physical exercise, one is hard pressed to determine what sage advice a physician might offer. Since such advise has not been a part of their medical education, physicians are likely to be just as confused as you are; however, given their social role as indisputable experts, we are trained not to question there advise. One physician friend has advised me that somewhere in medical school doctors are trained to stop challenges to their expertise by firing back with a rhetorical question: “Are you a doctor?” Always answer with a ‘no’, and then gently ask in return what qualifications they hold in exercise physiology?
The popular Paleo movement has made earnest attempts to incorporate fitness. However, since evolutionary medicine itself has not integrated evolutionary exercise science, the Paleo movement lacks paradigmatic leadership. First wave Paleo fitness orientations arose from two competing commercial theories of fitness, both notorious incomplete and under developed from the perspective of evolutionary exercise physiology. Most rest on claims of activity levels among hunter/gatherer populations, numbers inconsistent and not supportable by reams of anthropological reporting — I’d be tempted to classify those errant claims as modern urban myths were they not part of a pitch for authority for marketing. Some go so far as to claim scientific foundation for scant exercise programs, confusing empirical scientific method with journalistic polemics and confirmation bias covering hidden agendas. All systems of training in Paleo today work for some people to some extent, and all are profoundly better than inactivity; however, without due consideration of exercise physiology brought to bear in Physical Culture 2.0, many run the danger of under-training and/or incomplete training resulting in under-expression of genomic potential for fitness. Many popular Paleo fitness products and services hinge on mimicry of ancestral living 50,000 or more years ago — not well suited for contemporary living, and not a panacea since such programs are a genuine threat to the well being of older persons.
Another factor influencing public opinion and customer expectations for fitness is the huge fitness industry — an industry manufacturing and selling equipment, clothing, nutritional products and supplements, big box gyms, and educating certified personal trainers. Much of high end fitness equipment is simply unnecessary, some poorly designed knock-offs of superior equipment. In general, the fitness industry by means of mass advertising establishes a de facto standard unsupportable by scientific research. Personal training certification programs are not in alignment with evolutionary exercise physiology and medicine, nor do they address the pandemic of chronic degenerative disease.
New Breed Fitness Educators — Embodying Physical Culture 2.0
Earlier physical culture advocated fitness outside the providence of medicine, each occupying complimentary roles: where physical culture advocated fitness to prevent illness and developing the dormant fit human, medicine excelled at treating illness. With the advent of evolutionary medicine, fitness was redefined as survival adaptation and should bring about integration of physical culture and medicine as a unified field. Due to evolutionary medicine, both physical culturist and physician should equally become fitness education consultants regarding practices of preventative self-care and maintenance by individuals. I’m inclined to remain pessimistic regarding physicians and associated pharmaceutical and health care institutions shifting to an evolutionary medical model — Planck’s opening words to this article seem to suggest the direction the course affairs will take.
Physical Culture 2.0 gives birth to a new breed of fitness education delivered by means of a new breed of fitness educators. For almost all of human history, our normal ancestral condition was one found today only among athletes. Athletic like condition was attained and maintained by means of normal life in times past: the need for such conditioning is intrinsic to our genetic make up. The fall from our natural condition results in your system going haywire, producing unnatural disease. Attaining fitness levels normal to our ancestors is the task of New Breed Fitness Education.
Today’s personal trainers either work in gyms or free lance. Most hold certificates licensing them as trainers with one or more of the many trainer education programs offered today. Far too many trainers confuse the idiosyncrasies of a given training method with sound principles of exercise science. Not a single program’s curriculum addresses the pandemic of degenerative disease or its basis in maladaptive genetic expression due to inactivity and malnutrition. In this regard, the wide spectrum of trainers ranging from profession strength and athletic performance through general and specialized recreational fitness for exercise buffs through those selling fat reduction, ‘toning’, and cosmetic enhancement are included. Devoid of a thorough consideration of fitness in conjunction with diseases of civilization, any approach will remain essentially incomplete.
Transition from personal trainer to PC 2.0 fitness educator and consultant is nothing less than a full paradigm shift. New Breed Fitness Educator curriculum will require generally mastery of major ideas of evolutionary medicine, exercise physiology including genetic and molecular science in relation to metabolic pathways, and the relation of specific types of training stimulation to specific metabolic effects. Understanding the difference between contractile and hypertrophic adaptations along with understanding of which types of training best stimulate differing response is mandated. The work of Fred Hatfield, Joseph Signorile, JC Santana, Scott Abel and Brad Schoenfeld pertaining to full spectrum training aimed at stimulating the wide range of metabolic and hypertrophic responses offers guiding, generative principles for client-centered training in place of today’s by guess and by golly cookie cutter approach. More will be said in subsequent blogs. Robert Portman and John Ivy’s recently published Hardwired for Fitness will be a handbook for New Breed Fitness Educators. Watch for my review of that book in these blog pages.
Transformation of the role of trainer to new breed fitness educator is the next step in Physical Culture 2.0. New breed fitness educators form a leading edge of a grassroots revolution in fitness education empowering autonomous preventative self-care. An army of individuals working as fitness educating mentors has the power to beneficially reshape lives in a way political leadership cannot fathom. They will play a powerful role in guiding Americans taking back their fitness, vitality, and zest for life. Solution to America’s health care crisis cannot be fixed by the system that got us to the current broken condition — take back fitness starting with yourself! Become a leader at the grassroots level.
Copyrighted © 2011 by Ken O’Neill. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited: all rights reserved by copyright holder.