Botswana: Life Lessons from the African Savanna

Baboons, EVERYWHERE! No, not running wild in the widespread African savanna, or swinging along the treetops. Not even at the watering holes alongside their fellow zebras and giraffes. Nope, here they were, at the hotel gym!

health lessons from botswana

I naively thought it was impossible to have bad form on an elliptical, but the matriarch proved me otherwise as she wildly swung about the machine with her newborn clinging on tight. I have had many excuses in my day to be a no-show for a workout class: illness, work, familial obligations, injury, the list goes on. NEVER in my wildest dreams did I think my potential gym would resemble a scene out of Planet of the Apes. As I took a step closer, one of the teenage baboons flaunted his fangs, and I decided to add the monkey takeover excuse to my list of acceptable reasons to miss a workout.

Besides providing me with more excuses to ditch the gym, Botswana’s seamless immersion with the natural world undoubtedly reframed my mindset on how to integrate elements of “health” into everyday life back in the states. At base camp in the middle of the African savanna, my cell phone’s bright blue artificial light and gleaming no service bars were undoubtedly out of place against the rustic outdoor camp structure. “Welcome to Mambo Camp” cheered the hotel staff.

In an effort to embrace the excitement of the unknown, I tossed my phone at the bottom of my backpack and didn’t look at it again for nine full days. The only way me and my family could be reached was through one emergency line on the hotel phone; no one could find us all the way on the plains of the African savanna, and it was absolutely thrilling.

On our first early morning out on safari, we had the privilege of joining a herd of 20+ elephants and watched the dysfunctional family dynamics of a lion pride as they worked through a squabble. The animals charmed their way into my heart instantaneously through their innate charisma and unique personalities. I could shockingly relate to the frustrations of a baby elephant as it had a temper tantrum to its mom, and a feisty hyena tricking a pride of wild dogs as its mate stole the hard-earned prey. I was humbled by the animals’ immense grit, sheer power, and intelligence; the true meaning of “survival of the fittest” unraveled each day before my eyes.

My experiences in Botswana taught me so much about life in such a short time that I cannot possibly fit it all into an equally short article. That said, here are the top three lessons I learned on the savanna that I took with me back to my daily, healthy life in the States.

Exercise smarter, not harder

While in Botswana there were literal baboons preventing me from using the equipment, it forced me to ask myself: why was the elliptical so important while I was on this exotic trip in the first place?

It takes over 48 hours of planes, trains, and automobiles just to get to Botswana from Chicago. Undoubtedly, my body was run down. We work out so hard in our daily routines so that when a big trip or life event does in fact come up, we should give ourselves that luxury to turn it all off.

If my sappy note doesn’t quite do it for you, maybe a numbers game will. It is scientifically proven that exercise improves your immune system, but excessive exercise, such as in the case of flying across the world to only hit the ground running once again, will only suppress it. Truth be told, there is a 72-hour window post intense exercise where your immune system is actually impaired, leaving an opening for viruses and bacteria to more readily infect your body.

The main point is this: turning off the routine exercise may even be a healthier option based on life circumstances and uncontrollable situations. Shift accordingly to the “baboons” in your life, and your body will thank you.

It’s not goodbye, just see you later @socialmedia @technology @insta

In your 20s and 30s, consistent change is one of the few constants you can rely on, and the art of knowing how to re-ground in that type of world is an invaluable gift. Botswana forced a break upon me when I had no cell reception. Did I lose my friends or job afterward? No and no. Did I need to travel to the other side of the planet to turn it off and hide from everyone? Also no.

Most breaks can simply come from disconnecting from technology and social media. If a multi-day tech hiatus is not feasible given your life circumstances, consider time frames each day where you can refrain from using it. There is a lot of research that shows social media use over 30 minutes per day only instigates loneliness and anxiety. If you find yourself compulsively checking for updates or mindlessly scrolling for too many hours to count, this section is dedicated to you. 

You don’t have to go big or go home

The Botswana safari schedule consists of amphibian Jeep rides at precisely dawn and dusk where you must be sitting at all times if you want to keep your limbs intact. There is a misconception that an African safari trip is extremely physical and rugged, but in reality, the tourist’s job is to camouflage with the surroundings and hardly move.

This chronic sitting is not solely on safari; I couldn’t stop myself from relating it to how corporate America exercises its way of being (pun intended). If your company operates in an environment that may not be the most conducive to your physical health, little actions under your control DO count that do not necessarily require two-a-day workouts or expensive gym memberships (but if you like that, that’s awesome too).

An all or nothing approach is overwhelming and stressful, especially those just discovering new ways to enable a healthier lifestyle. Start by making smaller commitments to yourself to take the stairs rather than the elevator, or convert the traditional sitting desk into a standing one. Don’t be ashamed to be the one who packs a lunch or introduces a walking meeting. Sometimes it is all about the small successes and triumphs to get you on the path toward health. 

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About Samantha Kane

Samantha’s career was founded in the “healthcare trifecta”: insurance, acute care hospitals, and medical device sectors of the healthcare industry. Through her exposure to mega corporations, clinical operations, and the heroic products breathing life into operating rooms, Samantha has developed a unique insight into both the miraculous successes and alarming gaps populating our healthcare world today. Samantha has always had a fascination for merging science with art, and while “healthcare” and “writing” seemed to mimic an oil and water relationship, Samantha strives to use creative and relatable words as a gateway to help audiences better advocate for themselves within the health and wellness space. Samantha received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Health with a Minor in Psychology from Tulane University in New Orleans, and earned her Master of Science degree in Health Systems Management at Rush University Hospital in Chicago. Samantha is guilty of over-sharing photos of her family’s golden retriever, is a bit obsessed with travel, and is usually in need of some fashion advice. Her greatest strength and weakness is that she can’t sit still for too long, so you can typically find Samantha trying new workout classes and roaming about Chicago when not in her 9 to 5 job.