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Lessons in value of exercise to be learnt from ancestors


Lessons in value of exercise to be learnt from ancestors

If you like finding a book in your Christmas stocking, TRISTAN HALL recommends a fascinating new read from a Harvard University researcher who specialises in studying human evolution and health.

EXERCISED by Daniel Lieberman explains why it is so difficult for some of us to get started with exercise. He says we did not evolve to exercise.

In traditional societies, our ancestors were active for a reason. They hunted, gathered food, built shelters and had sex. Being active was either necessary for survival, fun or both.

Dancing was for fun, ceremony and storytelling. It was not considered exercise.

Hunting and food gathering was generally done in groups or with at least one other person. The tedium of stalking game for hours or digging for tubers was alleviated by the company of other people.

Energy was generally conserved for these necessary activities.

Today, those of us living in industrialised countries don’t expend much energy in daily survival. We drive to the grocery store. We don’t gather wood to build a fire but use an oven and microwave. We don’t walk to a well and carry water. It’s on tap, literally.

Although our bodies may crave activity to replace this idleness, Lieberman argues that our instincts can rebel against unnecessary activity. So what’s the answer?

There’s no doubt that exercise is good for your health but Department of Health data shows that more than half of all Aussies are not active enough.

Let’s review some benefits:

  1. Exercise can improve your mood as it stimulates the production of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.
  2. Exercise strengthens your heart and increases the oxygen levels in your blood.
  3. A targeted program at home or elsewhere can improve your balance and reduce your risk of falls and bone fractures.
  4. Regular exercise can help manage osteoarthritis by building up muscle strength and increasing the flow of blood and lubricating fluids around the knee joint.

So, getting back to Daniel Lieberman, what can we learn from our ancestors?

One lesson is to add a social element to your exercise.

Meet a friend for a walk and coffee. Join a dance class. Find a rowing group. Do something that is fun for you.

Secondly, make a start. Those happy hormones won’t kick in until you get active.

The longer you have been inactive, the more time they will take to reactivate. Reward yourself for progress and hang in there.

With patience, exercise can become an enjoyable and essential part of your life. And it will pay you back tenfold.

Tristan Hall is an exercise physiologist at Full Circle Wellness. Visit 

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