I learned of Dr. John J. Ratey‘s work through his book Spark, which discusses the impact of exercise on the brain (spoiler alert: good impact). Since then, I’ve been recommending this book to everybody and also reference it in my upcoming book.
So you can imagine that I was quite excited to receive a pre-ordered copy of Ratey’s new book Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization (co-authored with journalist Richard Manning) on my Kindle a few weeks ago.
I started reading and realized that Ratey, Manning, and I agree on a lot of things (no surprise there). We agree that many of our afflictions stem from our less-than-healthy lifestyles. We agree that some of the most important keys to physical and mental health are nutrition, exercise (movement), rest (sleep), mindfulness, connection with nature, and reliable relationships (or a tribe). And we agree that living more like the way we lived when we were evolving as a species is ideal (albeit somewhat challenging in our society).
We are designed to be wild, and by living tamely we make ourselves sick and unhappy.
Inspired to Go Wild
Even though I’ve written about a lot of the same things in my book, Go Wild really inspired me to make some changes—or upgrades—to my lifestyle.
Want to go wild? Here’s how. Don’t eat sugar, not in any form.
On August 1, I’m going to cut out sugar and start the process of eliminating grains and processed food from my diet. Between reading Go Wild, Grain Brain, Year of No Sugar, and Food and Behavior in the past several months, I’m re-convinced that sugar is evil and that we’re probably not supposed to eat grains, especially refined, modern grains. And processed food is a no-brainer. Who really feels good after eating manufactured food stuff? (But it’s so convenient!)
I’ve stocked up on veggies from our CSA, fruits and berries, nuts, smoked salmon, eggs, and roast beef. I plan to eat a wide variety of food, which is one of the book’s key points related to nutrition. Maybe I’ll start buying veal on Amazon. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Or maybe I should just befriend one of the many hunters in our community…
Movement builds our brain because movement requires a brain.
I’ve been a fan of “moving naturally” ever since I heard that term in the book The Blue Zones. The Go Wild authors recommend doing a variety of movements à la CrossFit. CrossFit looks super cool, and maybe I’ll look seriously at it at some point soon, but mostly I’m excited about doing more trail running.
I’m mostly a treadmill runner—to save my knees. However, I’ve found that trail running is also okay for my aging joints. There are amazing trails just a short bike ride away, so on weekend mornings, I slap on some bug spray, don my BugBand, and head over to the wooded bluffs. Running in nature makes you extra wild!
Everyone needs eight and a half hours of sleep out of every twenty-four.
Ever notice that you have a more difficult time controlling your emotions (and being a nice person) when you’re sleep-deprived? I talked to a couple of mental health counselors recently, and they both said that they tell their depressed clients (mostly college students) that if they can only do one thing, they should make sure they get enough sleep.
I typically get seven and a half hours of sleep on a good night. Ratey and Manning recommend eight and a half hours of sleep for every twenty-four. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t have to be continuous sleep to be valuable. As long as you get the right quantity, you’re good. I kind of like to sleep, so I’ll definitely be going to bed an hour earlier so I can fit that extra hour in.
A calm brain is like a still lake. ~Richard Davidson
When we practice mindfulness, we are able to participate in life—what’s happening right now—rather than always thinking about things that happened in the past or worrying about the future. This is the best state for our brains, and it helps us handle distress and difficult emotions. It also allows us to be more focused.
I’m excited to be taking a six-week introduction course to mindfulness through Mindful Schools right now. It’s been very helpful to help me establish a formal practice (ten minutes of focusing on my breath every morning), but also provided a deeper understanding of mindfulness in everyday life. I highly recommend it!
To summarize my commitment to going wild(er), I will:
- Eliminate sugar and grains from my diet over the course of the next 31 days.
- Enjoy a round of trail running at least once a week.
- Sleep eight and a half hours most nights.
- Practice mindfulness daily for at least ten minutes.
Have you taken similar steps in your own life? Do you think I’m crazy? Let me know in the comments.