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February 2018

How to Protect and Optimize Your Evolutionary Code

Today, February 12th, is "Darwin Day". Darwin Day celebrates birth date of Charles Darwin (born 1809). Darwin was a naturalist and biologist and is known as a pioneer of the science of evolution. Evolution states that species change over time through genetic variation and natural selection. Incremental mutations and adaptations over thousands of generations have resulted in an evolutionary "code" each of us carry with us. Think of this code like a computer program specific to each of us containing everything about us. This unique program defines our anatomy, our physiology, and our genetics (all our inherited characteristics, like eye color, body shape, brain size, genetic markers for diseases, etc.)

Much of this evolutionary code is beneficial to our existence, some is indifferent or neutral, and some of it can also be detrimental. Most of us have evolutionary code that protects us from infections, disease, injury, and untimely death. Alternatively, some of us have a code that makes us more susceptible to certain disease states, such as diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders such as Crohn's, certain cancers, and more.

The evolutionary code each of us carries is an accident of birth. We cannot go back in time and replace the code handed down to us through time. However, just like a computer program can be hacked or infected with viruses that cause it to run improperly or crash altogether, our evolutionary code can also be hacked and damaged by external factors which can result in injury, illness, disease states or even death. Computer programmers develop robust code, optimize it's performance with the best hardware and software platforms and protect it with anti-virus software and other tools. Likewise, our goal for our personal evolutionary code should be optimization and protection in order to thrive and maximize both the quality and length of our lives.

What external factors can impair and even damage our evolutionary code? Improper diet, smoking, excessive alcohol or drug use, lack of adequate sleep, lack of proper exercise, inadequate activity levels, and excessive stress can all hack our code and cause problems. A few specific examples:

-Lack of quality and/or quantity of sleep interferes with the conversion of short term memories into long term memories. Poor sleep also causes chromic elevation of cortisol, the stress hormone, and depression of growth hormone, which contributes to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

-Lack of proper muscle strengthening exercise results in a gradual atrophy of our skeletal muscles (about 1/2 pound per year starting in our twenties). This loss of lean muscle mass contributes to injuries, osteoporosis, and to lowering of our metabolism which contributes to obesity and diabetes.

-A diet too high in caloric intake (especially one high in sugars) elevates blood sugar levels, with a cascade effect of chronically high insulin and cortisol levels. This leads to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes and can even contribute to Alzheimer's.

What then are some actions we can take today to optimize and protect our evolutionary code?

-We must eat food that is concordant with our evolutionary biology. While we do not have to recreate the diets of our paleolithic ancestors, we must stick with modest amounts real foods with limited ingredients, preferably locally or organically grown or raised. Additionally, human bodies tend to thrive when occasionally stressed by intermittent fasting (skipping a meal or two once in awhile).

-We must move around more than the average 21st century person. I recommend walking a minimum of 3 miles per day, throughout the day, in addition to alternating standing with sitting. Regular recreation is also critical to our physical and mental optimization. Hiking, golfing, biking, gardening, etc. are all great ways to get outside and move around.

-We must get adequate sunlight. Too little sunlight has caused epidemic proportions of Vitamin D deficiency in our society. Ten to Thirty minutes per day of sun exposure or supplementing with vitamin D when weather does not allow being outside are critical to our health.

-We have to strain our muscles once in a while. Weekly weight training sessions which safely stress our muscular, cardiovascular, and metabolic systems to the point of stimulating change is critical to our wellbeing. Injury prevention, mobility, flexibility, insulin sensitivity and many more positive benefits accrue from lifting heavy things occasionally.

-We need to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night (preferably 8 or 9). Improved sleep quality and quantity can decrease our chances of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and dementia, and much more.

Charles Darwin's discovery of evolution by natural selection enriched human understanding of biology and genetics. We know we have inherited our evolutionary code from our parents and through them back millions of years to distant ancestors. Knowing this can help us understand actions we can take to best optimize and protect our specific code and therefore improve the quality and perhaps even the length of our lives. There is not much in the world more important than that!

Happy Darwin Day!

Posted February 12, 2018 by Tim Rankin