How hardship keeps us healthy (and why we’re getting rid of all our furniture)

Monday morning I sat down to eat breakfast with another region. They flew in from Tuscon, but come from as far north as Washington State. The breakfast buffet yet again proved to be beyond all expectations. I ate chia oatmeal pudding with fresh cut strawberries and a side of melon. I sipped tea and listened to the conversation, one which I chose not to participate in for fear of offending. I’m working on tact and not sharing unsolicited opinions. Instead, I harbor my judgment.

The group unanimously complained about the long walk from our rooms to the dining hall. It’s 500 steps. I measured it the day we arrived. 500 steps is just under a quarter mile, meaning we get half a mile of walking every morning, just for breakfast. Include dinner, and we get a full mile per day. Just for eating. Region 5 was not feeling it. But I am and this is why.

Hardship, highly regarded by centenarians of the Blue Zones, who tend their own land, walk instead of drive, and forego high furniture, is the idea that small inconveniences compounded over a lifetime (or even 3 weeks, our time here in Virginia) can have a large impact on your life. For example, walking half a mile every morning for breakfast adds up to over 180 miles a year. Depending on your height and weight, that’s roughly 11,000 calories, which equates to over 3 pounds of fat (3,500 calories is about 1 pound of fat). It only takes about 5 minutes to walk 500 steps. Do you think a 10 minute morning walk is worth it to maintain a healthy weight?

Since reading Blue Zones, I’ve been looking for small ways to incorporate more hardship into my life. Natural and easy weight management is one side effect of hardship, but improved overall health and therefore longevity is the real goal. By introducing daily hardship, it is easier to live free from the common physical ailments that result from a prolonged sedentary lifestyle.

Hardship does not have to be extreme, and by definition, it is quite the opposite. Think of hardship as a sustainable inconvenience. That is why, after a decade of setting myself up for failure with overambitious workout plans, this year I finally made the conscious choice not to workout for the sake of working out. Instead, I opt to practice at least 15 minutes of yoga every evening and walk at least 10,000 steps throughout the day. If I feel like anything more, fine, but there’s no pressure. If I don’t quite make it to the goal, I don’t stress. It’s a process. The goal isn’t six-pack abs or running a 5-minute mile. It’s overall health. With that in mind, at the end of the week, I will have stretched and de-stressed for nearly 2 hours and walked well over 20 miles. Compounded over a lifetime, not only is this sustainable and easy on the body, but it’s fun (I like yoga and walking) and effective. Going to the gym for an hour a day? For me, that’s unsustainable torture. Maybe it is for you, too?

Taking the stairs, parking farther from the door, and walking during your lunch break are all examples of hardship. But what about diet? Opting to go meat-free even one day or one meal per week can be a step in the right direction. It is well-documented that eating more vegetables and less meat is good for our health. For me, I try to eat one green thing at every meal. Compounded over a week, that’s at least 21 servings of greens. Another example is to switch out one sugary beverage per day/week/etc for water. Keep it simple. That’s the whole idea. This is very similar to the “baby step” mentality of habit change, except that you don’t ever have to take more than or reach for more than baby steps.

Beyond diet and exercise, what interests me right now is the idea of shaping my home life around the idea of hardship. In Okinawa, the Blue Zone of Japan, it is not uncommon for people to forego furniture. Sitting in cushions surrounding a low table on the floor means you have to get up and down a lot more, using your joints, core, and leg muscles more than you would if you sat in a chair at a typical table. The inconvenience is minor, but imagine the benefits if practiced over the course of a lifetime! Centenarians in Okinawa are spry and mobile, not arthritic and stiff.

The same logic applies to couches, beds, and other furniture. The closer you get to the ground, the more hardship you introduce into your daily tasks and the less “laying around” you’re prone to do.

I love the idea of designing our homes and spaces around our values, hobbies, and priorities. In the past, I have always designed my homes around social norms. For example, living rooms are for couches. Dining rooms are for tables and chairs. Bedrooms are for beds and nightstands. But the truth is that our space is our space, and we can use it however we like. I am not sure why it’s taken me so long to fully grasp this. There is nobody telling me I have to have a couch or a bed frame or a high table. Nobody.

So in the name of hardship, we’re getting rid of it all and going furniture free. This might sound kind of extreme, but it feels liberating. Granted, I have not yet sold all the furniture and experienced it first hand (that’ll be for another blog post), but the idea is solidified in my mind.

Instead of a couch, our living room will have the perfect space for my yoga mat and props. Instead of a coffee table and end tables, we’ll have cushions and a low game/eating table. Instead of using the dining space for a table and chairs, we can have a reading nook and mini office. As of right now, the only standard furniture we’ll have left is the bed and mattress. But let’s see how this little No Furniture Experiment goes. I’m still at GEICO training for another 5 weeks, so I may or may not come home to an empty apartment with plenty of space to stretch out, live long and prosper.

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Wife, yogi, and cat mama living in the SF Bay Area.

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