In response to stress and fear, the body enters a “fight or flee” mode. Systems such as cardiovascular get prepared for anticipated battle, and one of the preparations is thickening of the blood.
When blood is in a chronically thickened state, it’s more likely to clot. A blood clot that lodges in a coronary artery—blocking blood flow to where that artery feeds—causes a heart attack. A blood clot in the brain is a stroke.
People at risk for these killers are prescribed blood-thinning drugs; thin blood has much-reduced clotting ability.
What causes chronically thickened blood? Stress, anxiety and fear. And there is plenty of that around in our modern, industrialized world.
People exist in a chronically stressed state, trapped in traffic jams, confined in office cubicles, agonizing over bill payments, fearing foreclosure or losing one’s job, arguing at the dinner table with the kids over Facebook posts, etc.
Cavemen suffered stress, too, of course—fear of predators, the elements, or of not being able to slay dinner for the family. As in modern man, the caveman’s blood naturally thickened in response to anxiety and stress.
This wonderful response helped protect the caveman from bleeding to death in the event of a clash with a boar or lion, or from a gash suffered against a sharp rock while climbing away from danger.
Intense physical exertion induces a major spike in the production of several signaling molecules, including testosterone and human growth hormone.
These hormones subdue the “stress hormones” that instruct the blood to thicken. Such instructions occur shortly after the strenuous exertion has ended.
Cavemen had plenty of opportunity to “work off” their thickened blood, because their source of stress required prompt physical action.
That’s why their blood didn’t remain in a chronically thickened state; it was thick only when he had to fight or flee, and intense action restored balance to their body chemistry.
Our bodies today don’t know it’s the 21st century; they chemically respond the same way to stress as cavemen’s bodies did in prehistoric times.
The result can be disaster, because modern man cannot fight back when his flight is delayed, there are problems at the workplace or panic sets in while sitting in the dentist’s chair. He must remain calm to keep his job and status in the community.
Staying sedentary kills, however, because it keeps the blood thick. Modern man sits and seethes, rather than fighting or sprinting. He can’t body-slam his unfair boss. He can’t bolt and run away from a long line at the post office.
The solution is to make fight or flight workouts a regular part of daily life. Work out like a caveman. Doing so can offset the damage that chronic stress and anxiety wreak on the cardiovascular system.
Caveman workouts are characterized by short-duration, but explosive and highly intense bouts of exertion. This produces chemical changes in the body that do not occur with endurance-based or moderate-intensity exercise.
After a hellish day on the job, it’s time to hit the gym—like a beast—and reset your body chemistry. That’s how to beat heart attacks and strokes.
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