Why can’t we seem to adopt the kind of healthy habits that a person’s life depends upon? Some say the culprit is that the Western world is just not set up for exercise. As architect and urban futurist Cindy Frewen explains to Time, “Any meaningful effort to get Americans moving will have to focus on societal changes that fall into … [six] categories: social, technological, environmental, economic, political and value-based.”
Joyce Gioia, a futurist who specializes in workplace issues, says CEOs can foster activity through things like mandatory vacation periods, enforced end-of-day times, and supporting remote working and flexible scheduling. Adds Sagar Shah, the planning and community-health center manager at the American Planning Association, the best strategy of all might be making exercise so ingrained in daily life that it becomes automatic.
None of the above can be expected to afford any immediate relief or change of course. Could the answer lie in looking not to the future but to the deep past?
Such a view was recently provided by Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel E. Lieberman in his new book, Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding. Using anthropological evidence, Lieberman busts many myths and misunderstandings about exercise.
“Exercise is a special kind of physical activity,” he tells the Harvard Gazette. “It’s voluntary physical activity for the sake of health and fitness. Until recently, nobody did that. In fact, it would be a kind of a crazy thing to do because if you’re a very active hunter-gatherer, for example, or a subsistence farmer. … All in all, humans have these deep-rooted instincts to avoid unnecessary physical activity, because until recently it was beneficial to avoid it. Now, we judge people as lazy if they don’t exercise. But they’re not lazy. They’re just being normal.