Lieberman: being sedentary is pathological

Interesting article here with Daniel Lieberman, the Harvard barefoot running guy.

He talks about how society’s current level of inactivity is completely abnormal from an evolutionary perspective. We are not wired up this way.

AA: Why, in spite of our adaptations, have we gone from endurance athletes to couch potatoes?
DL: It was incredibly recently in history that a large number of humans have been freed from having to do physical activity. My argument, from an evolutionary perspective, would be that not having regular physical activity every day is pathological and abnormal. In a lot of medical studies, we compare people who are sick with controls. But who are those controls? They are relatively sedentary Westerners. I’d argue that we are comparing people who are sick to people who are abnormal and semi-pathological.

Whether you agree with his ideas about persistence hunting or not there is a lot of truth there. Even if that hunting style was a rare event, some kind of constant, low level activity has filled people’s days until very recently.

You don’t even have to back that far. It was true when people grew more of their food, didn’t all own cars and had to do more physical housework. That stuff just isn’t a part of most people’s lives anymore.

The fix?

Lieberman also gives some good, if most likely unpopular, advice. Do we really expect everyone to sort this out for themselves?

AA: What can we do about our maladaptive traits?
DL: If we want to practice preventive medicine, that means we have to eat foods that we might not prefer, and exercise when we don’t want to. The only way to do that is through some form of socially acceptable coercion. There is a reason why we require good food and exercise in school—otherwise the kids won’t get enough of it. Right now we are dropping those requirements around the world.

If we are going to solve these health problems, we have to push ourselves to act in our own self-interest. As a society, as a culture, we have to somehow agree that it’s necessary or face the consequence—which is billions of unfit, overweight people.


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