Long ago and far away, our ancestors were working it. They were fit. When paleontologists look at the bones of these folks, they can tell that the muscles attached to them were strong, and the bones were strong. They had to be. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here today.
“That’s nice,” you might be saying. “But our lives are different.” Yup. They sure are.
But here’s the thing: Scientists have figured out that for about 2.4 million years (that would be 84,000 generations), our ancestors lived a life of hunting and gathering. What does this mean? It means that over time, the human genetic profile adapted to physical activity. The active ones would have survived, and genetic selection for that would have taken place.
So Now Our Lives Are Different
During the last 10,000 years the level of activity that we need to do has slowly changed. First came agriculture (350 generations). Probably still requiring a ton of activity, but not as much running around. Then came the Industrial Revolution which has been around for the last 7 generations. Again, even less running around, but still potentially fairly physical. Things got more convenient, but not as convenient as they are now. Enter the Digital Age. Probably only two or three generations.
Now the need to expend meaningful levels of energy is virtually obsolete. One could even argue that being active now is often in the category of a hobby. Too bad, but there you are.
However, our bodies are still genetically set for activity. Think about it. That is why our bodies actually get sick when they aren’t active. Good thing we have advanced medical care or many of us would be goners.
But let’s get back to the paleo people. If you look at what they were doing in terms of some of today’s workouts, it would look like this:
- Lots of low to moderate intensity walking. It is estimated that the average daily distance required to find food and water and then bring it back to camp was between 5 and 10 miles.
- Hunting would have required bursts or even long runs at vigorous speeds.
- Carrying stuff. Getting out there to find food and water would also mean bringing it back. You have to figure that the loads were pretty heavy! Those were the hunters. The gatherers did not have it easy either. The estimate is that gatherers walked at least three miles a day, and would be carrying food, water, wood, and children with them.
- Recreation. Once food was obtained, it would be time to rest. But even rest would mean preparing food, taking care of their environment, and making clothes, weapons, and tools.
So what have we got now?
- Lots of us walk around, go hiking, biking, or use a cardio machine like a treadmill or elliptical to get some moderate or vigorous exercise.
- Aside from carrying groceries short distances, there’s resistance training. There are a ton of ways to cover a lot of bases in this department! Free weights, strength training machines, barbells, medicine balls, sand bags, products you fill with water, kettlebells, TRX, Pilates machines, boot camps, and group classes.
- We have maintenance activities like gardening, housework, messing with our cars, taking care of animals, and carrying around children.
- We have lots and lots of “activities” that require sitting. Day in and day out. There’s office type work and driving to get there and back. There’s driving to do errands. There’s TV. There’s reading. There’s personal computers. There’s sitting around with friends, at home or at a restaurant.
But I have a feeling I don’t need to tell you these things.
Getting enough exercise to keep our health often requires putting it into the schedule, joining a gym, or making the effort to get moving. This can be a pain.
Taking all of this into account, I would like to make some possibly surprising points.
- When thinking about getting exercise and incorporating targeted workouts into your routine, notice that exercise science has given us tons of tools to use. At the end of the day, these different ways to move and do resistance training are getting better and better at giving us multiple options. These only begin to approximate the myriad ways that our ancestors needed to move in order to stay alive.
- Following on from that, the take-home is this: our bodies are made to move. Not just the same movement all the time, but in many ways, at many angles and at different degrees of intensity. Our bodies are capable of so much more than we often give them credit for.
- Next time you are feeling sluggish because you haven’t moved for a while, remember the cavemen and women! The quality of your life may depend on it.
All the best
© 2019-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.