The North American Lifstyle Is Killing You – Here’s What to Do
Could the North American lifestyle be sending you to an early grave? It sounds a bit dramatic, but the truth is that factors like stress, a poor diet, overstimulation, a sedentary lifestyle, and not spending enough time outdoors (all of which are rampant in North American culture) have been proven time and time again to have devastating effects on your health.
For that matter, so have some other surprising contributors like sitting behind a desk all day and using too much hand sanitizer. Study after study has shown that these kinds of practices can actually take years off your life.
The good news is it is entirely possible to reduce, and in some cases even reverse, the harmful side effects of a lot of these lifestyle choices. In fact, there’s just as much research out there that shows how living an active life, free of modern distractions and full of meaningful interaction with nature, can improve your health and wellbeing.
Here are 10 easy steps you can take today to help you begin living a happier, healthier, and more vibrant life.
1. Turn off your electronics.
In a recent study of employees at the Boston Consulting group, led by a Harvard Business School professor, 26% of those surveyed say they sleep with their smartphones within reach. A majority of that same group (51%) check email while they’re on vacation. North Americans just can’t seem to let go of their devices.
And their kids are picking up on the same behaviors their parents are modeling. In a 2010 study by the Kaiser Foundation, North American teens spent 7.5 hrs per day texting, using social media apps, and streaming videos.
This constant overstimulation leads to problems with concentration and difficulties recharging our brains. In one Chinese study, overstimulated subjects showed signs of atrophy of the connective tissue in areas of the brain responsible for behavior and emotions.
By contrast, however, powering down your devices can allow your brain to recover and refuel, increasing your creativity, attention span, and cognitive function. Learning to unplug will take some getting used to, but the benefits will be well worth it.
2. Get off the couch.
Many North Americans spend their days working at sedentary jobs and then come home only to resume equally sedentary activities, like watching TV and sitting around talking. Even for those who do exercise, even say 30 minutes 5 times a week, that’s still a lot more sitting than moving, an average of 15.5 hours per day.
The problem with this is that when you’re sitting you’re using very few muscles, especially big ones like those in your legs and back. As a result, your metabolism slows down. Those who sit a lot often have unhealthy levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, and waist size…all which increase the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health problems.
In addition to the cardiovascular and other physical benefits associated with exercise, physical activity has also been shown to help people relax and improve their mood. And we’re not just talking hard-core weight lifting here. And any and all kinds of activities are beneficial. Even things like gardening or working around the house are great ways to keep your body in motion.
Recent studies at England’s University of Essex have also shown that exercising in nature, otherwise known as “green exercise,” offers even more benefits for your mental health. Not to mention the fact that those who spend time outdoors are approximately twice as likely to be active than those who spend almost all of their time indoors. So, forget heading to the gym to get your heart rate up. Just head to the back yard or the park and let it happen naturally.
3. Go outside.
As we mentioned, today’s North American lifestyle involves an unprecedented amount of time spent indoors. Even for those who do have an interest in nature, there’s still the temptation to read about it online or simply kick back in the recliner and watch the Discovery Channel.
However, none of these offer the same positive benefits as actually BEING in nature, which studies have shown to have a positive effect on both attention and memory.
Nature has an uncanny way of capturing our awareness, giving us a break from artificial attractions that constantly vie for our attention. Just merely looking at nature, not even actively participating in it, heightens activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (responsible for emotional stability) and the basal ganglia (which helps recall happy memories), per a study at South Korea’s Chonnam National University.
Studies also show that the benefits increase with prolonged exposure to nature. Even 5 minutes outside can produce some positive effects. However, one study showed that participants improved their cognitive performance by 20% following a 3-hour hike. Those who spent 4 days in nature upped their scores by 50%.
4. Soak up the sun.
Most North Americans have less than optimal levels of Vitamin D, among a number of other nutrient deficiencies. Just another result of our underutilization of the great outdoors, this situation can be rectified by a mere 5 to 30 minutes of UV exposure per day, according to a University of Wyoming study.
The benefits of adequate amounts of Vitamin D? Better defense against conditions ranging from cancer to osteoporosis to depression to heart attacks and stroke. In addition, the right amount of exposure to natural light helps the pineal gland regulate its output of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep. So getting plenty of sunshine may actually help fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
On the flip side, too much artificial light at night can have the opposite effect on our internal clock. For instance, staring at a backlit screen before going to bed can decrease melatonin production and disrupt sleep.
Note: Of course, care should always be used to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Using sunscreen can block UVB rays, but unfortunately those are the same ones that provide beneficial Vitamin D. Professionals are split on this issue, but in general it seems that a limited amount of unprotected exposure can be beneficial, while too much can certainly have serious consequences.
5. Just add water.
Not only are many North Americans lacking in their exposure to the great outdoors. Many are also missing out on another important benefit of nature: water. A study by the University of Exeter Medicine School found that being near water improved subjects’ moods to an even greater degree than merely being in just any old natural setting.
In a separate study, they also showed that good health seems to be more prevalent the closer you live to the coast. Living near the seaside has been proven to reduce stress, and it also seems to encourage physical activity, a known stress reducer.
Researchers at Columbia University also identified the fact that negative ions–which are in high concentration near moving water such as waterfalls, breaking waves, and river rapids–actually act as natural antidepressants. A study by Indoor Air saw its participants improve their energy levels by 33% after breathing negative ions for an hour.
6. Play with your kids.
As North Americans are living increasingly inactive lifestyles, perhaps no one is suffering the consequences as much as their children. Most young people spend more than 7 hours a day in front of an electronic screen and less than 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play.
As a result, childhood obesity rates have doubled in the past 20 years. Pediatric antidepressant prescriptions have skyrocketed. And the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of ADHD medications. As kids are missing out on the essential connection with nature, they’re becoming out of shape, unfocused, and mentally stressed.
Playing outside builds active, healthy bodies and prevents a number of future health issues. It also raises vitamin D levels and improves distance vision, lowering the chance of nearsightedness. It has also been shown to improve concentration and critical thinking skills and has been linked to a reduction of ADHD symptoms.
Being in nature also causes children’s stress levels to fall almost immediately. It also reduces the anxiety associated with a hurried lifestyle. So, do the whole family a favor and stay outside and play until the sun goes down.
7. Get your hands dirty.
This may sound counterintuitive, but many North Americans have become too clean for their own good. Known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” this problem has arisen as humans have decreased their exposure to helpful microbes, like gut flora, probiotics, parasites, and good bacteria.
Without these usual suspects for our immune systems to fight, they’re instead forced to attack harmless substances like pollen and pet dander. In essence, our overuse of bleach, anti-bacterial sprays, and hand sanitizers has left us in a sterile environment where we’re more susceptible to allergies, asthma, and other serious conditions.
A new study in Finland showed that the skin of young people who lived near forests and farms had a different composition of microbes than that of their counterparts who lived in more urban areas. The rural kids also had healthier immune systems and a significantly lower occurrence of allergies.
The solution? Get outside. Let your kids play in the dirt, and maybe even eat a little of it.
The good news is that a few recent studies, conducted on laboratory animals, have shown that by reintroducing bacteria you can actually reset your immune system and its capacity for certain allergens.
8. Eat fresh fruits.
Many North Americans fail to eat their recommended daily amount of fruit. And often what they do get is genetically modified or doused in harmful pesticides or other chemicals, rendering them almost a net zero in terms of nutritional value.
A few fruits that you can introduce into your diet for an immediate boost in nutrients are coconuts, avocados, and mangos. The increasingly popular coconut water has a wealth of health benefits. It also makes a great sports drink, since it’s lower in sodium and sugar and higher in potassium than most commercial brands. The coconut’s flesh and oil are also good for you.
Avocados pack a double punch when it comes to nutritional value. Not only do they lower cholesterol and provide folic acid, which can prevent cancer and birth defects, they also help you absorb the nutrients of other vegetables that you eat alongside them. So, add a few slices to your salad for an added benefit.
Eating one mango gives you half your daily recommended allowance of Vitamins A and C, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, some B-Vitamins, and more. These and other fresh fruits should be important staples in your daily diet.
9. Don’t forget about your brain.
Mental deterioration is just as much, if not more of, a problem in North America as physical atrophy. In fact, the U.S. currently ranks 3rd in the world for Alzheimer’s deaths, up 68% over the past decade.
Some contributors to this trend include lifestyle factors, like some of those we’ve already mentioned, but a lack of mental stimulation can also be to blame.
Want to know one easy way to improve your mental ability while also broadening your horizons? Learn a foreign language.
Becoming bilingual has been proven to delay Alzheimer’s disease in at-risk individuals by as much as five years. That’s a higher success rate than any Alzheimer’s drug currently on the market.
Speaking multiple languages also improves listening skills, focus, and one’s ability to adapt. The benefit to your kids will also be a positive one, as children raised in bilingual environments have stronger working memories and are better at mental calculation, reading, and many other skills.
10. Allow for plenty of down time.
Overworked and highly stressed North Americans aren’t exactly famous for knowing how to slow down and take it easy. But doing so is essential to optimal health and wellness.
Studies have shown that those who spend the most time enjoying leisure activities report the most positive emotions and the lowest occurrence of depression. Other benefits include lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones, and smaller waist sizes.
Even the good old fashioned nap has its place in a healthy, active lifestyle. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a 20-30 minute nap can do wonders for your physical and mental stamina. It can help restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents.
These Principles Are the Driving Force Behind Our Adventure Colonies.
Because we truly believe that these are essential strategies for living a healthy, well-balanced life, we make every effort to put them into practice in our own lives. However, we saw firsthand how hard it was to do that living in the North American culture.
Yeah, you can get exercise at the gym, and you can make the six hour drive to take your family to the beach every now and then. But what we were looking for was a scenario where all of these ten lifestyle choices just came a bit more naturally.
That’s what’s so great about our Adventure Colony concept. Adventure Colonies are the ideal setting for those of us who want a place where we can unplug, recharge, and live our lives more in tune with the way nature and our bodies intended us to.
If these healthy choices sound like the much-needed change you’re looking for, learn more about how you can live the Adventure Colony lifestyle. Download our free informative ebook today and see how you can reset your routine and experience a whole new way of living.