HOW TO LIVE LONGER | PART 2: Adaptation

 

By: Jeff Leider, CSCS

 

 

If evolution has taught us one thing, it is that we are forever adapting and searching for the next challenge to accomplish. 


Think about it...


· We started out as grazers, gatherers and pickers of low hanging fruits and vegetables that we could easily obtain in order to eat.

· We learned what fire could do and used that as our entry towards cooking other meats. This gave us the ability to acquire a variety of new nutrients from proteins and deep-rooted hard vegetables. Because fire allowed us to cook our food, we were able to chew less. Through this, our brains were able to reap the benefits from less time spent chewing, such as less muscle activity needed for chewing, a smaller jaw through evolution, and more blood flow into the brain.

· We began to build places to sleep and live near seas and other bodies of water. Communities began to form.

· We began to create more jobs and buildings. Common structures like governments and school systems were built.

· We needed to travel from place to place faster and thus innovated from horses to trains, to cars, to planes, and maybe sometime soon to autonomous cars.

· We started to focus on industry and globalization, and now we have the ability to mass-produce almost anything that we want.

· We dreamed up going to the moon and were able to make space travel a reality.

· We wanted to make robots and they’ll be in our lives sooner than we know.


This story continues as our evolution as humans with a survival instinct will adapt to the next challenge. 

 

BUT WHY ARE WE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER MAMMALS?

 

Let’s take the Koala as an example. Koalas are cute, fluffy and they live mostly in trees. They are the only living animal left in the Phascolarctidae Family, and closest animal in real-time is the wombat. Koalas have lived a long time but are predicted to be extinct by 2050. They evolved from being able to walk and climb to now spending 20 hours a day sleeping and the other 4 hours in trees eating the low nutrient food of eucalyptus.

 

This may sound good, and the Koala is living out their best life but evolution is disagreeing and it shows in numbers. If you’re not willing to adapt then you will be left behind. The Koala, a once roaming animal got so comfortable not having to get away from most pray and having an abundant amount of eucalyptus available for them that they began to do less and less, and veered more into a homeostatic state.

 

When you’re not moving and in search of evolving, you’re lost. You lose a lot of the senses you once had (adrenaline, reaction time, speed) and your motivation to adapt diminishes. From generation to generation, the DNA of that that species will change, losing it’s abilities, and without necessary adaptation to the environment in a whole world sense, their species begins to lose more of it’s encoded DNA each generation. Hence, No reason to adapt = No reason to live from a biological standpoint.

 

As humans, we have similar bouts of contentment and homeostasis tendencies. From day to day when we are in a routine, we tend to be more on autopilot. Just like your morning routine or driving your car to work, our brain adapts to our consistent tendencies. You will rarely remember any of the finer details, but somehow you always seem to brush your teeth in the morning and make it home from your drive from work with ease.

 

We want our body and mind to utilize our autopilot on some occasions or we would go crazy with having to channel into our every task. As humans, we are so smart that the brain is even able to filter out noise from our hearing. An example is a dinner where there are 50 different conversations going on at a restaurant and you’re able to focus in on only the conversation you’re having with your best friend.

 

In various times in our life, we will find ourselves coasting and seemingly, we did not expose ourselves to too many challenges or adaptations. We may feel like we’re in a funk, or just needed necessary time to relax our body subconsciously. It is okay to take a break from pushing so hard. We need breaks at times just like with exercise performance - you need rest to perform at your peak. The thing you want to do is to keep learning. We need to understand how to be a novice again. We need to fail. We need to learn new lessons and take in the adaptations that come with forward progress.

 

We want to always push ourselves into adopting new skills that spark our mind and take a break to reevaluate. When we continue to push our learning capabilities more, we get stronger neurotransmitters and begin to spark new areas of our brain. We should strive for knowledge and to keep increasing our skills and software in our brain. What we don’t want to do is to do nothing!

 

A great example is the retired women or man who gets to that age where they “hang up their work boots”. They have the choice of two options. First, they can choose to end up doing less than they ever did before retirement and find themselves without purpose and without a plan months down the road. In the second choice, they can simply take advantage of the variety of new opportunities.

 

Within this case, they both had co-workers and customers that they had to interact with, which create a sense of purpose at their job and tasks that needed to be done. There were roadblocks at work that would come up, causing them to adapt and solve problems. Everyday there was something a little different and that was a good thing.

 

RETIRED JIM VS. RETIRED SUSAN

 

Jim retired and began to live his new life. He had a relaxed first month and got a little more sleep, read the paper and had coffee each morning. Months went by with this routine and he started to lie in bed longer and watch more television than ever. Without noticing, he started to walk less, talk to fewer people and he was growing more bored each day. His life stays like this for a few months and he feels as if he’s living without purpose because he has less to do.

 

His body and mind also begin to change. Less movement, less interaction, less driving to work and the biggest thing - he forgot to plan to keep adapting to new challenges. His lack of adaptability and searching for new skills or traits has led him to a deeper state of homeostasis.

 

I’ve seen and heard of this and the end result is not pretty. The repetitiveness and lack of purpose can lead to depression. Also, from lack of movement, there is an increased chance of bodily injury. Finally, because the bones become more brittle, you will see this man begin to break down faster than imagined.

 

Susan retired and went on her dream trip to South America for 3-weeks. She came back home and joined a golf club that she dreamed about for years. Susan also began to exercise more than ever and learned about Intermittent Fasting. She shed a ton of weight, has never been happier and has gotten into such good shape that she decided to do a Spartan Race with her grandson at the age of 66. She felt a high that she has not had for years!

 

Susan did it right and took retirement to change her identity from a businesswoman to an adventure seeker. Her hard work ethic never left, but her identity from being a banker to a curious grandmother that puts her health first led her to write a new book. For her, her second life has just begun.

 

I don’t know about you, but I like Susan’s story better. She kept adapting and took advantage of her ability to continuously change. The more she learned, the more she was able to experience new skills, take on new adventures and it kept her alive, well and happy for much longer than Jim.

 

[1] A May 2013 report published by the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs found that retirement increased the chances of suffering from depression by 40%, while it increased the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical ailment by about 60%. That impact was assessed after controlling for the usual age-related conditions.

 

Gabriel Sahlgren, director of research at the Centre for Market Reform of Education and author of the IEA report, was surprised by just how much retirement undermined health. He looked at 9,000 people across 11 European Union countries and found that across borders, people suffered in the same ways and to similar degrees.

In the first year of retirement, health actually improved — “It’s nice to get some rest from work,” he said — but two to three years later retirees’ mental and physical conditions began deteriorating.”

 

More and more, the rate of depression and early death happens when our brains have fewer problems to solve and fall into the trap of consistent patterns. This example of the retired person - who wakes up, reads the paper, makes coffee, looks at their bills, and watches hours of television - tend to take fewer steps, they tend to interact less, and they tend to lay in bed more.

 

A life without purpose and adaption is not a life. It’s in fact, death. When we start to become more static, our body senses it does not need to live and it is coming to an end. Less life, fewer adaptations, and our brain starts to say, “Hey, I don’t need to move anymore. I don’t need to exert energy, I can just be still.” Just like the Koala, we find ourselves doing less and less.

 

Change is necessary and change is never slowing down. In fact, as humans, our brains are structured to look at challenges and to overcome them. As humans, we are never fully content as a whole. We are always working on ourselves, improving our craft, trying to live to 200, trying to figure out what the next big tech innovation will be, trying to get a better job, trying to write the perfect article, trying to create the most innovative business, trying to have the best relationship, etc. Our brains are meant for challenges and adaptations.

 

Adapting to new change is exciting. In fact, motor neurons in our brain fire differently and fire more frequently, connecting with other parts of our brain when we are engaged and are adapting to a new skill, new exercise, new relationship or anything that you’re not on autopilot for.

 

Most of our daily activity is on autopilot. We wake up, make coffee, go to work, go to the gym and go to dinners. Each year, we grow older and get that much further away from being a novice. We shed our youthfulness, curiosity, and wonder, where everyday starts becoming more or less the same. The goal in this life experience is to take advantage of all of the opportunities that we have. We have an abundant amount of opportunity to experience life and to make your experience your own creation. Do what you dream of. Think about all of the things you've ever dreamed to learn and take that on – playing a new instrument, trying a boxing class, traveling somewhere foreign, whatever you want to learn.

 

A very vital part of extending life is to keep learning, adapting and searching out new challenges. Our brain loves this and our chemicals of Dopamine and Serotonin flood our brain more and more with all of our new life discoveries. Doing more unlocks almost superpower-like abilities to accomplish more things faster and better, acquiring the confidence to continually grow as a human being and individual self. You are able to fit into every mold and that’s what it is to be a human - Complete Adaptability.

 

I will leave you with something to think about.

 

Are you a spiritual being having a human experience? Or are you a human being having a spiritual experience?

 

New challenges are always hard, feel like they’re too much, not the perfect time... or whatever excuse we want to create at that time. Our default is to always be the same, our body does not want to change but we must be open to change. We must always adapt and keep pushing our own expectations and boundaries.

 

THINGS YOU CAN START TO ADOPT INTO YOUR LIFE

1.    Starting a new skill
(Examples: Painting, Martial Arts, Writing, Music, Photography)

2.    Cold Water Therapy
(If you’re willing to turn the knob to cold and shower, then you are probably willing to take on a new challenge. Small wins add up, start first thing in the morning)

3.    Visiting a new country each year and embracing their culture with communication or willingness to involve yourself.

4.    Learn about a new topic and teach your friends. Teaching a new subject makes you 80% more likely to remember the subject rather than just hearing it.

5.    Recharging your relationship with an old friend.

6.    Skipping Date night at Dinner and going to Paint Night instead.

I challenge you for YOU! Be different and keep adapting! You’ll never regret it and you’ll learn a ton about yourself in the process.

 

References:

1.    Institute of Economic Affairs; BBC.com; Can Retirement kill You? Borzykowski, Bryan. 2013, May 13;



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