I vividly remember one morning in my Exercise Physiology class when we learned about cell metabolism – what happens on a molecular level to all of the energy in the body and how it moves the muscles. I was shocked to learn that our muscle cells are only 20% efficient. In other words, if we exercise for an hour and burn 600 calories, only 120 of those calories actually go towards making our muscles move. The other 480 calories are lost, usually in the form of heat. Imagine how much training an olympic athlete goes through to shave tenths of a second off his sprint time, or how careful we have to be when dieting to balance our caloric intake versus expenditure. And only 1/5 of it matters!
I still recall how easily my mind wandered while the lecture continued: if someone could come up with a way to enable the cells to even use just 10% more of that energy, they would become rich! They could rule the world! The possibilities would be beyond imagination. No more heat stroke, sprinters breaking records with ease, decreased need for consumption of food, allowing for better distribution to third world countries. It could change the world!
Today I finally had the opportunity to use my new snowshoes which I got on sale from Backcountry's Outlet (which happens to be located in West Valley City, UT). I gave a couple of teenaged boarders a lift to Brighton Ski Resort, then stopped at Mineral Fork Trail on the way back down. The snow was pretty well packed, but still deep. I went a couple of miles up the trail, took a detour to blaze a trail of my own, and came to a gorgeous meadow with fresh snow. There's nothing more satisfying than seeing that soft white blanket over rolling knolls and getting to decide whether to disrupt that beautiful chaos. The only marks in the snow to be seen were two sets of deer tracks who must have passed through the day before, if not earlier in the day. The mountains were majestic and the silence rejuvenating.
While hiking in the freezing temperature with nothing but a thermal top and fleece sweater, I became very aware of how much heat my body was generating. If I went too slow I would get very cold, but too fast and my body would begin to compensate for the heat by sweating, which can be dangerous especially when the sun is about to set. It brought to mind that physiology lecture and I realized, 20% efficiency isn't always a bad thing! In the winter, having nearly 80% of your body's energy turn into excess heat is actually a life saver. If my body were any more efficient, I would have frozen to death just moments after getting out of my car.
I threw a handful of trail mix into my mouth and continued trudging happily through the snow in awe of the efficiency – and lack thereof – in the evolutionary process. I'm glad nature isn't the obsessive perfectionist that many of us inadvertently become in our busy lives.