From the point of view of our ancestors and our evolutionary history, exercising is weird.
We are not evolved to exercise, but we did evolve by exercising. Our ancestors had to move regularly, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, often for long periods to hunt and gather food. When not moving to find food to survive, we were programmed to rest and conserve energy.
Given that we can now source food without moving or moving that much, exercise has become less necessary for survival, which is not to say exercise is not necessary for health. The problem is that with food now so easily accessible, our inherent laziness makes it challenging for many of us to find the motivation to exercise.
According to Dr Daniel Lieberman, if we want to exercise more, we need to make it as necessary and fun as possible.
Exercise is now a voluntary or unnecessary physical activity. Exercise is good for us, but it’s not a total necessity. In other words, we might not thrive if we’re unfit, but there is a good chance we will get by, especially given advances in modern medicine.
So if we can’t make exercise an actual necessity, we can at least try to make it more necessary by creating an environment that encourages us to move and stay fit. One way of doing this is to work with a health coach or a trainer who will track your progress and help you meet your goals.
However, relying on someone else to coerce you and hold you accountable usually helps you get fitter, but you may be miserable in the process unless you also make exercising fun.
There is an ancient, tried-and-tested method of making physical activity more appealing: making it social. In hunter-gatherer societies, men often travelled in pairs when they hunted or collected honey. When the women foraged, they went in groups, gossiping and enjoying each other’s company.
So try exercising with friends or a team or a trainer you get along well with.... easier without having to navigate the current Covid-19 restrictions. Another option is straightforward distraction; for example, an entertaining podcast can be incorporated into almost any workout.
In summary, exercise is good for us – and the better we understand our natural instincts to rest and take it easy, the better we can make a plan to overcome these tendencies and get moving.
Lieberman DE. Is exercise really medicine? An evolutionary perspective. Current sports medicine reports. 2015 Jul 1;14(4):313-9.
Lieberman D. Exercised: The Science of Physical Activity, Rest and Health. Penguin UK; 2020 Sep 3.
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