In relative terms, Western civilization is pretty darn comfortable. We have our big TVs, lightweight laptops, razor-thin phones sending knowledge and entertainment to us as soon as we ask, and cars that practically drive themselves. We like convenient, easy and fast.
But is it possible that things are a little too easy? Could our bodies be craving a little discomfort, a little bit of a challenge?
“There’s a positive level of engagement where you want to have these systems challenged and have them utilized,” says Naturopathic Medical Doctor Alan Christianson. “Not overwhelmed, but challenged.”
And it could be by doing something as simple as lowering the thermostat in your home.
“Some of the real hardcore obesity researchers have argued that thermostats may be more dangerous than McDonald’s,” Christianson says. “We’ve got this white fat, which is the storage stuff, and it’s pretty active but it’s mostly storage. Then we’ve got this brown fat, which makes us warm. For a long time, we got cold at night. You guys out camping, you’re by that fire and it helps a bit, but it’s gone at some point, and it’s cold throughout the night. Your body adapts to that and you thermoregulate. You challenge that brown fat, and that brown fat gets really good at eating up that white fat and making you warm out of it and keeping you warm. But … when your thermostat is 74 degrees, 24/7, the brown fat goes on hiatus, you’re not really needing it anymore. We do need some change in our thermal exposures.”
He advises to try keeping a 10-15 degree gradient from daytime to nighttime temperatures in your home. Or, in the shower, start the water at lukewarm and then challenge yourself with a few seconds of cold water. And don’t keep your challenges simply temperature related. Choose challenges for yourself that take you out of your comfort level.
“That heightens our resiliency and makes us more able to withstand all of the BS we’d rather just get away from and circumvent,” Christianson says.
One way Christianson challenges himself personally is something you don’t see every day. He rides a unicycle.
“The magic formula of good engagements are things that you can keep on finding more and more ways to challenge yourself. Another part of the magic formula is that you can do them outside, you can do them in a lot of situations, you don’t need to have a lot of special circumstances,” he says. “They require a certain amount of managing three-dimensional space, so you’ve gotta control your body in a three-dimensional plane. For me, that was just the next extension of that sort.”