The Big Myth of Exercise Debunked by an Expert in Human Evolution – People – Culture

Mark Twain, who lived to be 75, once said he got all the exercise he needed by being a pallbearer at the funerals of friends who exercised regularly.

Or maybe those words were from Senator Chauncey Depew, who has died at the age of 94.

In any case, although not everyone expresses it with such grace, they are not the only ones who throughout history have not been very close to exercise.

And that’s not unusual, Daniel Lieberman, a paleoanthropologist at Harvard University and author of Exercise, told The Harvard Gazette.

We are programmed to avoid unnecessary exertion, not for triathlons or treadmills.


It is a myth that it is normal to exercise

The human being, he points out, never evolved to play sports, and from a scientific point of view it is a strange activity.

That is, although we evolved to move, to be physically active, “exercise is a special kind of physical activity: it is voluntary physical activity for the sake of health and fitness.”

It’s a new invention, he emphasized (note that “new” is relative: Lieberman’s daily life includes the Stone Age).

It would be unwise, for example, for a hunter or farmer to unnecessarily expend extra energy running 8 kilometers in the morning: he would lose valuable calories that he needs for priority activities.

“We have these very ingrained instincts to avoid unnecessary physical activity,” explains the paleoanthropologist.

Today, however, “we judge people as lazy if they don’t exercise. But they’re not lazy. They’re just normal.”

But that doesn’t mean exercise isn’t very helpful; it only explains why it is so hard for so many of us to make enough.

And Lieberman thinks that understanding it can help us do more.

“Since the medicalization and commercialization of exercise clearly doesn’t work, I think it might be better to think like evolutionary anthropologists.”

Luckily, he is, so here are four of his recommendations:

1. Don’t get mad at yourself

Don’t feel bad that you don’t want to exercise, your instinct is not to do more than necessary.

But we are also rational beings.

We are aware that we are building a world that has benefited us enormously, but because it no longer forces us to be physically active, it puts our health at risk.

This is a world where it has become necessary to do more than necessary.

Countless studies show it.

If we learn to recognize these instincts, we can more easily overcome them, Lieberman says.

“When I get up in the morning to go running, it’s often cold and uncomfortable and I don’t feel like exercising. My mind gives me all kinds of reasons why I should put it off. Sometimes I have to force myself to go out the door.

“My point here is to be compassionate with yourself and understand that those little voices in your head are normal and that everyone, even the ‘exercise addict’, struggles with them.

“The key to exercise is overcoming them.”

2. Don’t forget two things

There are only two reasons we evolved to be physically active: to satisfy our needs and to satisfy ourselves socially.

“Most of our ancestors went out hunting or gathering every day because otherwise they would have starved.

“The other time they were physically active was during fun activities like dancing and games.”

For them, as for us, entertainment brought social benefits.

After years of research, the paleoanthropologist advises to have the same mentality when it comes to exercise.

“Make it fun, but make it necessary.”

And one of the best ways to achieve both goals is to turn physical activity into a social activity, such as by joining a running group.

“The duty will make it fun, social and necessary.”

3. Don’t worry so much

“A final anthropological approach that may help is not to worry about how much time and how much exercise is needed,” Lieberman suggests.

He points out that we have this idea that our ancestors were really incredibly strong… after all, they had to lift giant rocks and hunt down heavy beasts.

But the expert assures that this is far from true.

“Our ancestors were reasonably but not excessively active and strong.

“They also didn’t run every day or regularly; they probably did it once a week or something.’

What’s more, you don’t have to go that far back in time to understand, as there are still peoples with similar lifestyles.

“Typical hunter-gatherers engage in only about 2¼ hours per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

“They are not extremely muscular and spend as many hours sitting as we do, almost 10 a day.”

The message is that although there are recommended minimums, a little physical activity is extremely healthy.

“I think knowing that can help people feel better if they don’t exercise at least a little bit than not at all.”

Studies show that 150 minutes of exercise a week — 21 minutes a day — reduces mortality by about 50 percent, he adds.

But it is important not only to do it, but also…

4. Don’t stop doing it

“We invented the concept of retirement in the modern Western world and with it the idea that once you turn 65 it’s okay to take it easy.”

However, “we evolved to be physically active throughout life.”

This activity, in turn, helps us live longer and stay healthy as we age.

“This is because physical activity activates a wide range of repair and maintenance mechanisms that counteract the effects of aging,” he explains.

One proof of this is today’s hunter-gatherers, who tend to live almost as long as their counterparts in Western industrialized societies.

The difference, he notes, is that your “health expectancy” (the number of healthy years to live) roughly matches your life expectancy, whereas in industrialized societies it’s common to fear that you’ll spend years incapacitated before you die.

“As people age in the West, they tend to lose a lot of strength and power, and this makes basic tasks more difficult. And when that happens, people become less active. As they become less active, they become less fit.

“It’s a really disastrous vicious cycle.”

So overcome your instincts, even if your mind doesn’t want to help you, and keep moving, even if it’s no longer necessary.

And if exercise bores you, do as in the Stone Age: start dancing!

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BBC-NEWS-SRC:, DATE OF IMPORT: 2022-10-01 12:30:05

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