The world is flat. No, seriously! Maybe not in the manner of “Flat Earth” conspiracy theories but in a way even more insidious and dangerous. Your world is flat. Flat floors, flat sidewalks, flat trails ... a majority of your paths are flat, and it’s messing with your mind and body.

Think about it. We modern humans are believed to have appeared on the scene about 300,000 years ago. The first crude human dwellings date back only 30,000 years. Before that we roamed the Earth, traveling where wild game led us during the day and spending the nights huddled around trees or hiding in caves. The surfaces we strode upon were as rough and untamed as we ourselves were. That’s the sort of surfaces we adapted to through evolution.

But now everything is flat. Yes, it’s safer, easier to travel along flat, even, non-slippery surfaces. It takes very little effort or observation to maneuver through the modern world. A person’s face can be glued to their cellphone as the walk block after city block. Flatness — what a wonderful invention — unless your body and brain were designed for rough travel.

As the world’s population ages, some very problematic studies of the elderly have come to light. Japan has the oldest demographics, so a majority of the studies have been done there. The results of these studies have shown superior levels of attention, balance and core muscle strength are found in people who have spent above average amounts of time traversing rough, wild places. Those who spent their lives on flat places suffered overall weaker strength and much-reduced sense of balance. This leads the “flatlanders” to being significantly more susceptible to falling and the resultant critical injuries. A U.S. study in 2000 found that 70% of deaths of people over the age of 75 were due to falling.

More than 270,000 years of uneven ground forced our core muscles to be strong, constantly working to keep our bodies upright. Our brains were constantly scanning for hazards. A protruding root that could trip us was given almost as much attention as the deep growl coming from behind a bush. But now neither muscles nor brain have to work hard to keep us sure-footed. And like anything that isn’t used, they begin to atrophy and then fail when most needed.

So spend some time on the trail, off the path, off the flat. Clamber along a streambed. Climb a steep hill of loose, shifting soil. Study the ground for good footholds and handholds. Tap your inner caveman/cavewoman now to better survive the modern world coming. Go wild, friends!

Follow Merriwether’s Foraging Texas on Facebook and @merriwetherforager on Instagram for daily introductions to the edible, medicinal and poisonous plants of Texas (and other, equally important places!)