If you work at an office, you probably know someone who has a desk with a sit/stand option. This person eats kale salads and bikes to work. He takes the stairs instead of the elevator. He has a gadget on his wrist for tracking his heart rate and a garden at home where he grows the vegetables that he and his family just love to eat. You probably don’t like being around this person. Something about his preternaturally positive attitude just gets under your skin. I know. I don’t like being around him either.
I’ve done some digging and I believe I know what spawned these annoyingly effervescent people. They are doing something that Ben Greenfield describes as ‘ancestral living’ in his book, Beyond Training. Mr. Greenfield explains the science behind building endurance. There are two ways to do it: (1) long, slow aerobic training and (2) high intensity interval training (HIIT). Doing HIIT is a bio-hack: it builds up the density of mitochondria, which is what improves endurance, without the need for a ridiculous number of hours of running, biking or swimming every week.
But we still need aerobic activity in our lives, because it has some benefits that we cannot get from HIIT alone. The solution? Stay active throughout the day. This combination of HIIT workouts and low-level aerobic daily activities mimics the lifestyle for which our bodies were developed over hundreds of thousands of years before we all got desks, computers and corporate overlords:
An ancestral approach to training is based on the theory that we are naturally designed to perform lots of low-level physical activity with occasional bursts of very high intensity, which builds endurance without significant physical and metabolic damage. Living and training in this manner means respecting our ancestors and critically considering how the environmental and training stresses we place on our bodies affect our health in positive or negative ways.
Excerpt From: Ben Greenfield. “Beyond Training.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/beyond-training/id850443941?mt=11
This is no doubt where treadmill desks and the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” originated. These modern cultural adaptations and esoteric pieces of wisdom have their roots in the science endurance training.
I have been adapting an ancestral approach for about a month now. I must say that I actually like it. Walking to work feels more like a fun excursion into town than a commute to a desk job. Standing at my desk is harder than it sounds, but I’m building the capacity for longer times on my feet without getting a stiff back or tired legs. It may be the placebo effect, and it is definitely anecdotal, but I feel more energetic.
I am now the coworker with a stand-up option at his desk. The guy who comes into work flush from an invigorating walk and bops around the office looking positively jazzed to be doing paperwork. I don’t even like being around me at the office anymore. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see about getting a plot at the community garden this summer so I can grow my own vegetables.