May 29, 2015

Fit to Bits


Walking 10,000 steps a day is supposed to be one key to a healthy life.

I see people wearing a FitBit wrist strap that counts those steps, 24/7. I think it sends the count to your phone.

Now the phone makers are making wrist watches that you can look at to see your step count. You can buy Apple’s watch for $350.

Of course, there also are arm bands that measure your vital signs. Chest bands, too.

Another company has come out with a watch that measures all that, plus counts the calories you burn. It sends a reminder to your phone when you have been sitting in one place too long.

Sitting, according to my yoga teacher, is the “new smoking”. That is, the more you sit, the shorter your life will be. Makes sense, though a bit scary to think about.

Iqaluit is the northernmost town in the world, the capital of Nunavut, which stretches from Canada’s Northwest Territories almost to the North Pole. It is inhabited by Inuit people aka Eskimos. For thousands of years before discovered by Westerners, the Inuit have lived off the land, or ice, that is.

The people of Iqaluit don’t have a weight problem, at least an overweight problem. In fact they’re now getting too skinny because they stopped eating their previously native diet of whale fin, seal blubber, etc. The Inuit people evolved over the ages to put on more body fat than other peoples in the world in order that they might better survive five or six months of the coldest weather on earth.

They evolved – survived and thrived – by living off the land. By eating what was available.

But explorers striving for the North Pole “civilized” the Inuit, and modern ways slowly edged out their native customs and diet. So now with a Western diet of fast and prepared foods, these people are mostly too skinny to stay warm outdoors. Instead of their time tested ways of hunting and whaling for food, they stay indoors on the couch, watching TV. Mostly.

Oh, and by the way, they have the highest suicide rate in the world. Per capita, 30 times higher than anywhere else. This may be due in part to the fact that Western culture has introduced them to all manner of illicit drugs. The Inuit people also have one of the highest per capita rates of drug abuse anywhere.

Beginning about 500 years ago, Europeans, then Americans, systematically destroyed the cultures of dozens of indigenous tribes who had lived off the land in North America for ages. Indians and their ancestors had lived off the land and managed not to drive the American bison to near extinction.

I have been to the Havasupai reservation next to Grand Canyon. There, almost everyone is overweight and almost 1 in 3 has Type 2 diabetes. The Havasupai, along with the rest of North America’s indigenous people were forced to adapt to a westernized high-fat, high-sodium, high-carbohydrate calorie diet, and became more sedentary, along with the rest of the U.S.


Many of the tribes don’t exist any more, much less their old ways, including language. American public education for most of the past 200 years hasn’t allowed the teaching of native American languages on Indian reservations.

History, right up to the present shows us that wherever and whenever a society moves away from having daily contact with the land, with nature in some elemental form, the result is then a decay in the health of the society and its individual members.

Closer to home, all my neighbors have been exchanging emails wondering about the incessant humming noise that begins each morning and continues till dusk. Our neighborhood is heavily wooded. Everyone has a burglar alarm, aka home security systems; some have video security cameras at their driveways. The consensus was that someone’s alarm was errantly triggered. Only one besides me understood that the once-in-fourteen-year emergence of cicadas is responsible for the noise.

Wendell Berry most astutely put it, “We are isolated within our unique human boundaries, which we certainly cannot . . . escape by means of technological devices.”

So for the past few decades we modern day, urbanized citizens of the so-called “developed countries” have become unbound from our natural ways but bound by our technological devices. We have become intent on relying upon these devices to tell us what we want to know – who we are, how healthy (or not) we are, how much exercise we need, what we need to eat, and so on.

John Muir famously pointed out that every time he tried to determine the purpose of one thing in nature, he found it to be attached to the everything else of the world.

Now it seems we are well on our way to become unattached to the rest of the world. In fact, a recent New York Times article reports that a group of U.S. scientists and scholars have determined that in order to provide enough food and energy for the world, humans must “de-couple” from the natural world instead of relying on it.

These “eco-modernists” opine that the business of food and energy production must more “intensively extract” these things from nature, while the world population becomes more urbanized.

That, to me, is the beginning of the end.