In all the hustle and bustle to get prepared to face a disaster, there are often things that get overlooked. Some are purely by accident, others are simple oversights and then there are a few which may actually be because we don't want to face them. We'd rather pretend that everything is okay in that area, rather than do something about it.
There are a number of things that can fall into this area, and we always have our excuses for why we ignore them. But that doesn't make it better and it doesn't make it right. When the time comes, our attitude towards those areas will probably be quite a bit different, as we belatedly realize our error in judgment and how much harder we've made it for ourselves to survive.
Such is the case of preparing ourselves. I'm not talking about training ourselves, because we tend to be rather good about that. Oh, there are people who never get around to training themselves in one skill or another, perhaps we all do that; but by and large, we preppers put a lot of work into learning the necessary skills to survive. For many, that's the most enjoyable part of prepping.
No, what I'm talking about is preparing our minds and bodies for the rigors of survival. We here in the United States are largely a fat, lazy, out of shape bunch of people. We're accustomed to working in a sedate office, living a sedate life and sitting sedately on the soft, watching television.
I've got to say, our ancestors were a much tougher, hardier people. They had to be to build the nation that they did. Little House on the Prairie and the Walton's didn't include television sets. Those people worked hard for what they had. Okay, maybe they didn't on television, but the families those TV shows were based on sure did. Work, in those times, meant back-breaking physical work, not sitting in a cubicle somewhere, developing terminal index finger from a computer keyboard.
Plowing a field behind a mule-drawn plow is hard work. The mule doesn't do all of it. It's up to the farmer to keep the plow's blade in the ground, while driving the horse and keeping the furrow straight too. Most other forms of work were hard as well, requiring much more physical strength and stamina than what we have today.
The physical and mental toughness that our ancestors developed didn't happen in the local gym; it happened through life. Most work was highly physical and there were few aids to make it easier. Today, we depend on everything from power tools to power appliances to get things done, harnessing the power of the internal combustion engine and the electrical motor to provide the motive force that they had to supply with their own muscles.
This alone will make survival much harder for us, than it was for them. We are not accustomed to the regimen of physical activity that was normal for our ancestors. Because of that, everything we will need to do to survive will be harder for us, than it was for them.
We need to make a change; we need to prepare ourselves. Our bodies must be hardened to physical work, with the stamina to do it all day. This is different than just lifting weights in the gym. Weight lifting may build big muscles; but that doesn't mean that those muscles will be able to do the work that is needed. Workouts are highly stylized, with specific movements intended to build muscle. But those movements may not have anything to do with the actual movements we need to do while working.
So, what's it going to take to make our bodies survival ready? How can we do it? Well, it won't be easy; but then, nothing worth having is ever easy. We're going to have to make some changes, so that we can get our bodies ready for what may come.
Let's start with our weight. As a country, we have a chronic issue with our weight. A whopping 68.8 percent of adults, 20 and over are considered to be overweight or obese. Of those, 35.7 percent of all adults are actually obese and more than 5 percent are severely obese.
Believe it or not, we aren't the most obese country in the world, but fall in at number nine. But don't worry, we still have a chance to win that number one slot, as our obesity rate is on the rise. Yes, our children's generation has a higher obesity rate than ours did, and we have a higher rate than the generation of our parents.
So, why are we so obese? There are two parts to this, perhaps three. The first part is the food that we eat. We just plain eat too much of it. The average American eats 3,770 calories per day (according to one study published in the UK), much more than the recommended 2,000 to 2,500 that we should be eating. This makes the American caloric intake the highest in the world. No wonder we're overweight.
But it's not just how much food we eat, it's the kinds of food we eat as well. Most of us are eating a rather unhealthy diet. Now, I'm no health food nut and I'm about as far from being a vegetarian as you can get, but I can recognize a less than healthy diet when I see one.
What's so unhealthy about our diets? Three basic things; too many carbohydrates, too much sugar and too much fat. Our fast-food restaurants are the epitome of this, combining fried and deep fried foods, with large amounts of potatoes (carbohydrates) and sugary drinks. Some of the "super-sized" meals you can get at those restaurants actually provide more than enough calories to get you through the day, all not-so-neatly packaged in one tasty meal.
While we need sugars, carbohydrates and fats to provide our bodies with energy, we are eating too much of them. We should be eating more lean meat, fruits and vegetables and lay off the fast food a bit.
The third factor in this equation is something I mentioned in the introduction, our sedentary lifestyle. We just don't have enough physical activity in our day to make our bodies burn the calories we are taking in. So, instead of using all that energy in the french fries and soda, our body stores it away as fat for a rainy day. Sadly, too many of us are prepared for way too many rainy days.
Solving this problem is going to take more than a diet and more than a New Year's resolution to go to the gym. It's going to take a lifestyle change. Diets only work until the diet is over. Then, once we reach our goal, we binge and put the weight right back on. Instead, we need to develop some new eating habits, as well as developing some new routines that allow us more activity. Between the two, we can beat the weight problem, slimming down and improving our health.
When we are forced into survival mode, we will find ourselves forced to do a lot of things that we're not accustomed to doing. Survival living requires a lot of physical work, work that we normally don't have to do. It also requires that we do that work, without having electrically powered equipment to help us.
There are few professions today which require much physical strength. Even in those, there are power tools and powered equipment to reduce the physical strain and help workers accomplish their tasks more efficiently. About the only professions which still require a fair amount of physical strength on a daily basis are the building trades. Even there, power tools help a lot.
We are so accustomed to using power tools and equipment to do things, that it has caused us to lose a lot of the physical strength that people once had. To make up for it, some people go to the gym and work out. But working out at the gym isn't the same as doing physical work. The way the muscles are used is different, bringing different results.
One of the few types of exercise which closely matches actual tasks one might do in a survival situation is the Steel Mace Workout, otherwise known as Hindu Warrior Mace Training. The exercises in this training regimen use a 10 pound steel mace, with a long handle. Many of the exercises look much like the activities which we can expect to do in a survival situation; such as chopping wood, digging with a shovel and even swinging a sword in a fight.
The problem is, if we don't prepare ourselves physically for the activity we will have to do in a survival situation, we're going to find ourselves unable to do the necessary tasks. Either that, or we're going to end up wasting a lot of time stopping to catch our breath, rather than doing the actual work. This means we'll end up getting less accomplished in a day, reducing our chances of survival.
We need to see that clearly. Survival is an all-encompassing game. As such, we need to be at the top of our form, able to work quickly and efficiently. The time we will need to stop and rest, because of lack of physical strength, is time that will be taken out of our day, without giving us anything in return.
Then there are the tasks which require more physical strength than we have. Picking up logs to build a log cabin is not easy. Neither is holding them in place with one hand, while attaching it with the other. Without the physical strength to lift and hold those logs, how are we going to build ourselves a long-term shelter, if we have to bug out from our home?
Likewise, our physical strength affects the amount we can carry in a pack or bug out bag. The standard is that a bug out bag should weigh no more than 1/5 of your body weight. But if you're not in shape, you're not even going to be able to carry that. You may end up finding that you have to leave important things behind, simply because you don't have the strength to carry them.
Strength and stamina are two different things, but you need them both. Strength can be measured by the amount of weight you can pick up. Stamina though is how many times you can pick it up, before becoming too tired to do so. Working out at the gym might give you physical strength, but still leave you lacking in the necessary stamina for survival.
Look at it this way; the standard military weapon throughout the Middle Ages was a sword. If you've ever picked up a real sword and swung it around a couple of times, you've gotten an idea of how hard they are to handle. Nevertheless, you were probably able to pick it up and make a few swings without any real problem.
But does that mean you can swing that sword from sunup to sundown? Probably not. Few people today could actually do that. But there was a time when it was necessary to be able to swing a sword like that, all day long. If you couldn't, it could cost you your life.
You might be able to pick up the backpack you're using for a bug out bag and carry it around the block, but that doesn't mean you can carry it all day long. For that matter, you might not be able to walk all day long, let alone do so with your pack on. If you haven't got the stamina to do that, your bug out is going to go awfully slow.
Stamina is part strength, but it is mostly cardio. What stops you from being able to carry that pack all day long probably isn't a lack of physical strength. If it is of the proper weight for you, you should be able to do that. But, if you aren't getting enough oxygen to your muscles, you won't have the ability to keep going. You'll seem to run out of energy and get tired, even though your body has plenty of energy reserves to rely on.
Muscle ache comes from a release of acid into the muscles. That, in turn, is caused by not having enough oxygen in the blood. If you don't have enough oxygen in your blood, then you don't have any stamina. You need to increase your heart and lung capacity to absorb oxygen from the air around you and pump it to the muscles which will use it.
Cardio exercise will do more to increase your stamina than exercises which are designed to increase your physical strength. So don't think that those machines are just for the fat people, they're for you too. Get on there and spend an hour running or pedaling a bike.
Physical and Mental Toughness
Just as strength and stamina aren't the same things, strength and toughness aren't the same. In fact, some people who are quite tough don't look strong at all. Likewise, some who are strong don't have the characteristic of toughness.
Martial arts experts are trained to cultivate toughness, as well as strength and the skills to perform the various blows, kicks and blocks that are part of their art. The same goes for boxers. Both need the ability to withstand a blow from their opponent, without it causing them to capitulate. In fact, they need to be able to withstand that blow, while not allowing it to affect them, so that they can continue the fight.
This sort of toughness is partially physical and partially mental. It's easy to fold when you're hurting, so you need to be able to reduce the paint you feel from a blow. That's the part that's physical toughness. There's an easy way to understand this. Tighten your abdominal muscles and have someone hit you in the stomach. It might be best to have a child do this. Then, relax the muscles and have them hit you again, attempting to make the second blow just like the first one. Which do you feel more?
I'll give you the spoiler here, so you don't have to do it. You'll feel the blow to the abdomen much more severely if your muscles are relaxed than you will if they are tight. In fact, if you're in fairly good shape, you may not feel the blow to your abdomen as anything more than a touch, when your muscles are tightened. This is physical toughness.
Physical toughness allows your body to withstand difficult situations, trauma and potential injury, without any conscious thought on your part. It is something that is part and parcel of a strong body, so usually comes about as you exercise and strengthen your body.
But mental toughness is something else entirely. Mental toughness is the ability to stand firm in a decision that you will not fold, no matter what. You'll probably feel the pain, but you won't let it stop you. It is actually mental toughness that counts for more than mere physical toughness, because that mental toughness pushes to you go on, even when your body tells you that it can't.
Most simply put, mental toughness is willpower. Someone with a strong will is much more likely to present mental toughness than someone who doesn't have a strong will. But I need to define that a little better. Having a strong will doesn't mean forcing your will on others, it means forcing your will on yourself. If you're the type who can make a New Year's resolution and stick with it, you've probably got a strong will. But if you can't... you need to start looking for some mental toughness.
Mental toughness can be increased, but it's not easy. More than anything, it requires putting yourself in difficult situations and forcing yourself to complete them. You can't go from 1 to 10 in this, you have to push your limits slowly, constantly working to expand them.
Let me give you an example of that. Let's say that you're going to use running as a means of improving your mental toughness. I'm also going to assume that you're not in shape. So, running a half mile really pushes your physical limits. Ok, so your first day, you run a half mile; that's your limit. Now, to push your limit and build your mental toughness, you're going to add to that distance every other day. So for two days you run a half mile, then the third and fourth day you run 100 feet further; the fifth and sixth day you add another 100 feet to that; etc. etc.
As you keep adding, you're going to find that each time you add another 100 feet, it gets harder to reach the finish line. That's actually what you want. The idea here is to push your limit past what your body can do. While your body will be getting stronger, your willpower will be getting stronger even faster.
Somewhere along the way, you're going to crash, physically. That's the point you're looking for. When you get there, you've got to push yourself to complete. I don't care if that means you slow down, you walk or you crawl; you've got to push yourself to the end. That's where the mental toughness comes in. by pushing yourself to complete the distance, even though your body can't do it on its own, you are creating a stronger will.
Now, this might not be the best exercise for you to do. There is a risk in pushing your body past its breaking point. So have your doctor check your heart before you try. But I'm banking on the fact that you probably don't know where your limits are, and are used to stopping long before hitting them. What I'm trying to do here is to get you to force yourself to push your limits. That only comes from mental toughness.
Age Related Chronic Issues
There's one more area I need to deal with, that's chronic illness. As we grow older, our bodies tend to degenerate. Part of that is the natural aging process, part of it is caused by our diet, part of it is caused by lack of exercise and part can be caused by not taking care of ourselves. Old injuries can cause some strange problems as we get older.
The point here is that much of what we refer to as age related chronic illness is actually controllable. You may not be able to stop your hair from turning grey or stop your face from getting a few wrinkles, but there is a lot that you can control.
I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, high triglycerides and high cholesterol a few years back, not to forget that I was overweight as well. My doctor, who was a friend of mine, laid it on the line for me, telling me what I had to do or the potential consequences I'd suffer. So, I made some lifestyle changes, changing my diet severely, cutting many things I like out and starting to exercise. Now, all of my numbers are normal, without having to use any medication. I was on meds for a while, but no more.
If I can do that, you can too. Oh, I understand that there are some chronic illnesses which are beyond our control. Changes in diet and exercise won' fix them. But the ones most people suffer from are controllable. That's the point. If you can control it, then learn to do so.
Probably the most controllable chronic illness is high blood pressure, medically known as "hypertension." Do you know what that means? It means you have too much stress. Well, if there's anything we can control, it's the amount of stress we allow ourselves to have. Hypertension shouldn't even exist, yet almost everyone over the age of 50 has it.
You might think you can't control hypertension, because you can't control something about your circumstances. That's actually true. I'm not talking about changing your circumstances. Jobs and families provide us with more than ample opportunity to be stressed out. Unless you're going to go be a hermit living in a cave, you can't get rid of that. But you can change the way you react to it.
If I were to throw a bucket of water on you, while you were sitting there reading this, you might jump from your seat, yelling, "You made me wet and you made me mad!" But that wouldn't be true. While it would be true that I made you wet, you decided to get mad on your own. You could just as easily have decided to laugh about it and grab your own bucket of water to douse me with.
The anger in that little example is the stress. If you had chosen to get angry, you would have chosen the route of stress. But if you chose not to get angry, you would have chosen the stress-free route. That's your choice to make. Nobody else can chose it for you.
Just apply that example across all your life. You may not be able to eliminate the things in your life which cause stress, but you can eliminate the stress. Simply find ways of eliminating the stress that you normally feel and you can lower your blood pressure.Now, to be honest, that's not easy. But it is possible. It take retraining your mind, so that you look at things differently. But it is possible to do. I know, I've done it. I've learned how to get rid of anger, worry and stress in my life. Things that used to bug the heck out of me, now flow off my back like water off a duck's back. I don't have high blood pressure, because I don't allow myself to have too much stress.