Strength = Life

I occasionally see strength training used as a metaphor for life in general. A well known example:
“Squats are the perfect analogy for life. It’s about getting back up when something heavy pushes you down.”
Besides witty metaphors, I’ve found that the link between ‘being strong’ and ‘life’ is actually a lot deeper. You see, mankind is growing weaker and our quality of life is deteriorating.

I remember a discussion back in high school about what separates humans from (other) animals. Most people agreed that ‘culture’ was the answer, but somewhere in the years that followed I came to another conclusion. Animals, like our ancestors, adapt to their environment. I used to think that  humans separated themselves from other animals by doing the opposite nowadays: we try to adapt our environment to ourselves. This is not just a long-term-theory-of-evolution-thing, we see it happening all the time. Animals go with nature while we change nature and do unnatural things all the time. I believe this has made us weaker.

Some will argue that this is not the case, a common point raised is that our life expectancy in Western society has gone up. There are a few problems with that way of thinking though. Our medical science is a big reason why our life expectancy has gone up so much in recent decades. This would not be such a problem if the quality of life remained high as well. Unfortunately, diseases run rampant and many old (and not-so-old) people are suffering from all types of ailments. Advances in science and changes in civilization have even helped the development AND spread of new diseases.

The old guy is the Okinawan karate teacher Seikichi Uehara. He continued to teach karate until he was 99 years old, when he passed the baton, one year before he passed away. Pretty fucking sugoi, ne?
The old guy is the Okinawan karate teacher Seikichi Uehara. He continued to teach karate until he was 99 years old, when he passed the baton, one year before he passed away. Pretty fucking sugoi, deshou?

Another point is that our life expectancy has increased over the last decades, but mostly in Western society. Let’s take a look at the Japanese island of Okinawa. Until they were heavily influenced by Western standards in terms of lifestyle, they had the most people aged over 100 in all of the world. Their life expectancy was extremely high AND they had very, very, little of our Western diseases. However, their life expectancy went DOWN under the influence of other cultures. My wording was not entirely accurate here. Let me clarify with a specific example: “Okinawans younger than 50 have Japan’s highest rates of obesity, heart disease and premature death.” (quote taken from here)

Yes, genetics play a role in their exceptional longevity and health, that has been pretty thoroughly researched, but according to certain estimates, that is only a minor part of the equation. Physical activity, relatively low caloric intakes (compared to our overweight society) and a focus on a more natural way of living are supposedly way bigger factors. As for the quality of life thing? Way less cancer, way less osteoporosis and way less of pretty much every common ‘Western disease’. Click here if you want to learn more about that.

Still think its just genetics? There are other people around the world with great longevity AND little disease, like the Hunza, a mountain people from the Himalaya. Like the Okinawans, they lived lives where they were adapted to a natural environment. Now here’s the thing, something I hadn’t realized before in my earlier conclusion: WE STILL ADAPT TO OUR ENVIRONMENT, just like in the old days. The difference is that we now adapt to a mostly artificial environment. Result? Our testosterone levels have plummeted over the decades, diseases and other problems associated with weakness and old age in our society (osteoporosis, sarcopenia, diabetes, etc) are common and we’re collectively growing fatter and weaker.

No, I’m not a fucking hippie that wants to do everything the natural and healthy way. I’m not going walk around on vegan sandals, preaching to people that eating bread is bad and we should shun pharmaceuticals wherever we can. Au contraire, I’m more of a ‘live a little’ type of guy. But really, is it that hard to slightly moderate the bad stuff and get your ass off the couch, instead of letting your body and mind deteriorate over the years? Do whatever you like. Just take a look at the amount of old people wasting away in illness and realize that, despite genetics and other factors outside your reach, there is some degree of choice involved.

“Death is winning. Do something.” – Paul Carter, from lift-run-bang.com