- Controversial opinion alert
- But here’s a man who says that exercise is unnatural!
- Discover why the modern age might not be so bad for us after all
A long time ago…
Before Twitter and Instagram existed…
Before Brexit, Trump, the banking crash, wildfires in the Arctic Circle and the pandemic…
I started writing the Good Life Letter.
Simpler times, back then, I think. Even though it was only 15 years ago.
So much has changed in the world – not just politically but in the way we live our everyday lives.
Screens in the palms of our hands…
Twenty-four hour connectivity to a global conversation network…
Algorithms that use artificial intelligence to decide what we are looking for and what we want to read…
More and more people working at computers…
And – since the pandemic – more people working from computers while sitting at home.
Even if you’re retired or you shun social media, you’re still reliant on many internet and computer based technologies to book events, speak to relatives, check opening hours.
We cannot escape.
As they say on the rather worrying recent Netflix Documentary The Social Dilemma, social media has the potential to create a utopia…
…or a dystopia.
A grim world in which we are ruled by algorithms and addictive systems that take us further away from reality.
After all, the human brain and body are pretty much the same as they were in the Stone Age, even before we farmed crops and dwelled in permanent habitations.
Back then we used to run around, fighting mammoths and tigers, foraging for fruit and nuts, travelling long distances on foot.
The theory goes that this is why the modern age has such a devastating impact on us.
How modern life is ruining out health
Research a few years ago claimed that 70,000 deaths a year were caused by our sedentary lifestyles.
A study in 2009 showed that acute computer-related injuries increased by 732% over the previous 13 years (and this will have got worse in the ten years since).
A 2017 study found that risk of depression was linked to increased screen use.
Another in the same year showed that children who used technology such as phones or computers at bedtime experienced reduced sleep quantity and quality.
There have also been countless scientific articles about how adults don’t get enough sleep these days either, which could lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, depression, lower immunity and reduced sex drive.
So are we all in deep trouble then?
Are we being killed by our computers, apps, and work-from-home lifestyles?
Are we evolving into limbless slob couch potatoes?
Well, maybe not.
Because here’s a totally DIFFERENT perspective.
Meet the man who thinks exercise is unnatural
A few weeks ago I read a fascinating article in the Times magazine, about a Harvard professor named Daniel Lieberman.
He agrees that we are effectively still Stone Age people…
With the same old hunter gatherer impulses…
But he doesn’t think it’s as much of a problem – or that modern life is so different for our bodies.
In fact, it’s BECAUSE we are those same Stone Age hunter gatherers that we love to sit around all day, eating junk food.
He argues that for millions of years it was GOOD for us to be sedentary and avoid physical exercise.
In fact, he says exercise is unnatural.
Now, bearing in mind this man runs a marathon once a year, it’s clear that he is not ANTI-exercise.
But what he thinks is that we’re NOT going against our ancient evolutionary impulses when we sit around a lot, starting at computers.
He believes that because calories were scarce in the Stone Age, putting energy into any activities that weren’t going to help us find a mate and have kids weren’t really worth doing.
“Hunter gatherers don’t exercise,” he says.
He also thinks that when we wolf down junk food, we are acting on those ancient impulses to consume it whenever we find it plentiful.
The same goes for all the recent warnings about sitting down being as bad for our health as smoking.
He thinks this is an exaggeration.
Sitting is natural, even if chairs are a recent invention. If you look at close evolutionary relatives like chimps, he says, they spend most of their time sitting – in fact 10 and a half hours out of the 12 they are awake.
What’s more, Lieberman points out that studies show that Westerners with desk jobs live longer than manual workers, who are on their feet for longer.
“We oversimplify things and biological problems aren’t simple – and the result is that people become distrustful of science.”
“We are bombarded with conflicting inaccuracies on how to stay fit. People are confused and feel embarrassed and they hate being nagged.”
Well this is very much in line with the Good Life Letter approach, I have to say.
Guilt trips aren’t good for anyone’s wellbeing
Since I began writing it, I refused to turn into some finger wagging lecturer that put people on guilt trips.
Because I don’t think that approach works.
Especially when the advice suddenly switches with new research and then switches again, and again, and again.
What Daniel Lieberman believes is that we should strive to understand more about what makes humans tick.
It doesn’t require lots of arm-pumping gym exercises, or pounding the streets, to stay healthy.
We never did that in the Stone Age.
Instead, he encourages a kind of active sitting, where you get up often, fidget and move position a lot, and don’t stay in one place for a really long time.
Anyway, controversial it may be, but I thought I’d pass this on…
Because while the modern world is an increasingly worrying place, with many new perils from our new technologies, it might not be as bad for you as some scientists have claimed.
Maybe we’re not as far from our Stone Age predecessors as we thought.
So maybe there’s no need to feel guilty, just for being HUMAN.
Yours as ever