Our modern human environment is an incredibly odd blend of over-stimulation and under-stimulation. We are bombarded by loud noises constantly. Lights alter our circadian rhythm. And the constant buzz of media and caffeine make sure we’re running at a steady anxious buzz. But what about the environment we navigate? Does it offer the same level of stimulation?
The Modern Human Environment
The modern urban environment offers the ultimate in human ease of navigation. There are stretches of paved and level roads and sidewalks, stairs instead of hills, and a coffee shop on every corner. There’s little need to walk. Climbing over anything is considered ill-advised as it’s dangerous. And when we do walk, at worst it will be a graveled road shoulder or a grass median strip.
The not too distant human norm of traveling long distances over challenging terrain to get what we needed to survive is something most of us have a hard time even imagining. We were marathon movers. I’m generally considered in good shape by most people. But I have no doubt that I pale in physical prowess compared to my distant ancestors.
The more civilized we become the less we need to use our bodies to survive. This sounds great until you consider that our bodies require regular movement to stay healthy. Long bouts of inactivity cause disease.
The Tactile Wasteland
The modern human environment is largely an urban environment. As of 2014 fifty-four percent of the worlds’ population lives in an urban environment. (UN) But what’s wrong with an urban environment. I suppose it depends on your approach.
In general, cities are designed to help large numbers of people navigate the city in a reasonably easy manner. That means flat, paved and hopefully direct routes. And usually car traffic takes precedence over pedestrian traffic. In a nutshell, many urban areas are designed assuming you will drive to your destination and human-powered transport is a secondary consideration, if not an outright afterthought.
If you are going to stimulate your body in the way it needs in the modern human environment, you’re going to have to think outside the box. To maintain a healthy body you need to walk, run, jump, crawl, climb, lift, carry, and throw regularly. There is an almost infinite number of ways you can accomplish this. Despite the novel concept that fitness happens in a gym or during a prescribed workout, the truth is fitness is always happening.
Every second you are breathing, you are adapting to your surroundings. This is the SAID principle. Not walking regularly will limit your ability to walk. If you walk only on flat paved surfaces, over time you limit your ability to walk up or downhill or on rough, uneven surfaces.
Change Your Relationship To The Modern Human Environment
It’s possible to use the modern human environment in a way it wasn’t intended though. You can get the stimulation you need if you use your imagination a little. An extreme example of this is parkour. You don’t need to move like a parkour athlete to stay healthy but they do an exceptional job of demonstrating how you can use the urban world to get in stimulating movement.
The trick is to start seeing your environment in a way that lets you invent novel ways to move through it. One of my favorite ways to do this is to walk balancing on curbs instead of on the sidewalks. I also enjoy climbing up onto retaining walls and walking on top of them and then jumping down to the sidewalk when they run out.
Don’t let your environment define you. A uniquely human characteristic is our ability to define our environment. Find a way to make your travels fun and personal. Get your fitness while on the move throughout the day. Reinspire your sense of play, improve your health, find the enjoyment everywhere around you.
Share some of your favorite urban movement games in the comments below!