Re-wilding is a term most commonly associated with restoring the natural processes of nature and animals. It is a progressive approach to conservation to assist in a wilder, more bio-diverse ecosystem– one that is in true harmony with nature.
When it comes to the idea of re-wilding humans, the same ideas apply; restoring us to our natural rhythms and finding ways in which to reinvigorate our wild nature and connect us to the natural environment.
Whilst the concept of re-wilding often makes us think of a complete lifestyle change, such as eating only wild meats, foraged foods or living off the grid, there are other ways which are more pragmatic and accessible to people living modern lifestyles. These methods are based on what we know of our hunter-gatherer ancestors and are validated by scientific research. Try any, or all, of these simple ways to help re-wild your brain and body to restore harmony with your true biology.
1. LIGHT UP, LIGHT UP
It's been less than 100 years since we stopped relying on the sun, moon and stars to guide our waking and sleeping hours. One would argue that artificial light has gifted us more hours to be productive and, whilst many might question the purpose of much of this productivity, there is no question that this has come at a cost to our health. This is often referred to as circadian rhythm disruption, where commonplace symptoms such as difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, irregular appetite and impaired cognitive skills are incredibly common.
Exposing ourselves to natural light cycles - or trying to recreate them - is therefore extremely important for a balanced circadian rhythm. Natural sunlight creates repair and regeneration of the mitochondria, optimising healthier circadian rhythms, improving sleep and hormone function. Research shows that exposing ourselves to natural light for just 20 minutes within an hour of waking is key to improving how well we sleep and can help raise our serotonin levels.
Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, which as you doubtless know controls your sleep and waking cycles, but is also a very powerful anti-oxidant. Morning sunlight exposure is particularly important as it plays a huge role in keeping our serotonin cycles aligned with ‘nature’, peaking mid-afternoon and dropping off at night. Morning light also ensures healthy levels of cortisol which is critical in helping us feel energised in the morning and is a vital hormone to one’s health.
It’s crazy to think that it is common practice to prescribe so many side effect-laden drugs to alter people’s serotonin and cortisol levels, but not to advise people to bathe in some morning light.
2. DON'T BE BLUE
Nighttime exposure to blue light must also be reduced in order to prevent the suppression of melatonin. I highly recommend the use of amber-lensed glasses once the sun has gone down. These blue light -blocking lenses are highly effective as they completely eliminate the short-wavelength radiation necessary for nocturnal melatonin suppression.
If you’re into tech then a great bit of software that is commonly used in the ancestral health community is a program called F.lux. This can be installed on all your devices and adjusts blue light emissions according to the time of day. It has also been shown to positively affect your melatonin secretion when using these devices at night.
Another great way to prevent playing havoc with your circadian rhythm is to sit next to a window when you’re working. Also, try and get some natural sunlight after you eat lunch, so the serotonin from any carbohydrate you might consume does not covert from serotonin into melatonin and make you sleepy.
Read more: Top 8 ways to improve brain function
3. THE FAST ROUTE
Intermittent Fasting is completely natural and was a daily habit of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. It is one of the oldest dietary interventions whilst being supported by an abundance of peer-reviewed research showing the dramatic health benefits for the metabolism, the brain, the heart and anti-ageing. By adopting the eating patterns of our ancestors and exposing yourself to periodic cycles of feast and famine, you are working in the most preventative way to avoid chronic disease.
Eating all day doesn’t allow your body the time to clean out and regenerate, or for metabolic hormones to reset.
Short term fasting can also increase metabolic rate by 3.6% to 14%, helping you burn even more calories.
As regards to brain health, Intermittent Fasting studies have shown an improvement in memory, cognition and clarity. An increase in BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor occurs when fasting, this is the protein that promotes neuron growth and protection, making us more resilient to neurological stress and thus staving off neurodegenerative diseases.
The way it works is that our bodies start to run out of glycogen stores when we go without food for a period of around twelve hours, then our bodies flip into more of a fat-burning mode. As fat is a slow-burning fuel, you not only have a more balanced energy supply, but food cravings start to disappear which makes it easier for you to make healthier food choices – it’s a win-win! How do you think our ancestors endured crippling periods of nothing or very little to eat?! They simply let their biology take care of things by burning fat for fuel.
Prescribed diets often mean following a strict set of rules with calorie restrictions. With intermittent fasting, you dictate when you eat and what you eat within a certain window of time, and fast when the window is closed. In fact, it’s something we do each night while we sleep.
4. STAY GROUNDED
Throw off your shoes and walk like your ancestors. Bare footedness connects us to nature and restores our electron reserve, thereby minimising the consequences of exposure to electromagnetic stress, reducing overall body inflammation and assisting in a reduction of excess cortisol. Spending just 30 minutes per day barefoot has been shown to help you significantly de-stress, regulate emotions and balance the nervous system. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine demonstrated that, due to the effects that stress hormones have on your natural circadian rhythm and your ability to sleep more deeply, connecting the human body to the earth during sleep (known as ‘earthing’) normalises the daily cortisol rhythm and improves sleep patterns.
Researchers also found that walking barefoot can actually decrease white blood cell count and increase red blood cell count, indicating a positive immune response. There is little doubt that this is one of the easiest re-wilding habits we can all participate in to assist our bodies’ hormonal functions and to better align us with the natural rhythms of the earth, including the patterns of light and darkness.
You don't have to go far, for a quick dose of grounding, simply find your nearest park, woodland or even a small patch of grass close to your workplace and slip off your shoes for 30 minutes whilst you take a stroll.
5. THE WAY YOU MOVE
If we look at how our ancestors used to move you will see that they did a great deal more moving than we do today.
Our ancestors did an array of physical movement like squatting, climbing, running, jumping and using their torsos to resist pushing and pulling forces. They were also prone to short spurts of high-intensity movement like sprinting or moving more slowly for longer durations, like long-distance walks or hikes. It’s also important to note that unlike us, our ancestors did most of their physical work outside which research has demonstrated to have huge additional physiological and mental health benefits compared to performing your exercise indoors. The synergistic combination of exercise and exposure to nature not only has the potential to produce more endorphins, but research shows that it can help us to create a much healthier relationship with the concept of exercise.
In the modern world, opting for high-intensity workouts, hiking, fast-paced walking, swimming, strengthening and stretching are four great ways to get into peak physical shape without having to commit to a gruelling 45 mins on a treadmill in the gym.
Research also shows that the ancient Latin saying ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (a healthy mind in a healthy body) starts with exercise. As I am sure you know, exercise is a habit that leads us to create other good habits and has a downstream effect on helping us make better choices. Once you get people exercising they are more likely to be kinder to themselves and others because people feel better about themselves. They also tend to choose to eat healthier, not because they should but because they want to.
6. ICE, ICE, BABY
Our ancestors endured crippling cold without the benefits of modern technology. Current day research reveals that emulating our ancestors' exposure to periodic bouts of cold can have a positive effect on mood, stress levels and our immune, cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. Conditioning your brain and your body to endure and embrace cold-water immersion may be challenging but is a fantastic re-wilding technique and the health benefits are endless. Medical research has shown a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol whilst being immersed in cold water and an increase in our feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Most top-level athletes in a wide range of sports now take ice-baths as a commonplace and routine intervention.
Even if you begin with a quick, cold shower, the results can be dramatic. So consider the benefits when engaging in dips into cold lakes or rivers or your morning/evening bathing routine. For many, this is not an easy thing to do. As a beginners’ tip, take a hot shower, then try gradually decreasing the temperature to cold, little-by-little. In no time at all, you’ll find your body adapts and you are at an ice-cold water temperature you’d never have thought yourself able to sustain.
7. BORN TO BE WILD
We believe it is important to lose the concept of diet and dogma. Wild animals use instinct to inform which foods they need and how much food they consume. Humans have this capacity but don’t always listen to internal cues, yet it is something that anyone can relearn. By moving away from calorie counting and strict dietary dogmas you will find that eating real and nutritionally dense food will leave you truly satisfied. This is also the only realistic way to produce an optimal hormonal state, to strengthen your body’s systems, be naturally lean and activate your fullest potential.
The easiest and most sustainable way to do this is to move away from unhealthy processed carbohydrates. Eat simple sustainable proteins like local meats, organic eggs, sustainably sourced fish and seafood, pulses, leafy greens and sprouts. In consuming carbohydrates, make nutritious and grounding choices like root vegetables, seasonal fruits, wild edibles, a small number of ancient grains, and healthy fats like nuts, seeds, olives, olive and coconut oil. This simple way of eating saturates our cells in deep-seated nutrition, improves our metabolism, creates micro-biome diversity and better connects us with our natural environment.
Wild foods are a food group in themselves and are our link to deep-seated wisdom and connection with nature. Wild foods such as wild animal meat, herbs, roots, bark, mushrooms, berries, seaweed and seeds provided our ancestors with much of their key nourishment. Learning what local edibles are available to you, depending on the time of year and where you live, is the perfect way to feel better connected with your natural environment. Great wild staples such as dandelion, nettle, cleaver, and clover are easy to identify and grow in abundance. These potent, nutrient-dense, free foods can help us to truly thrive in the modern world. Use them fresh in salads, experiment with adding them to your green smoothies instead of spinach and kale, and for even more medicinal benefits make herbal infusions using dried roots, leaves and berries.
In all of these lifestyle strategies, it’s important to remember that enhancing your ability to take advantage of living more naturally will ultimately benefit your health.
“Look deeper into nature and you will understand everything better.” - Albert Einstein.