I recently read a book that changed the way I think about exercise…for real. It not only provided scholarly (but very readable) insights – it also made me feel less guilty about “not exercising” while giving me some new tools to think about caring for my body.
If you are in the 10% of people who exercise regularly without thinking about it, great. For the rest of us, here are my key takeaways from Daniel Lieberman’s book, Exercised.
Along with many other aspects of our daily life, exercise has been “medicalized”.
Every week in clinic, I talk to young parents who have been sent home from the hospital with instructions to feed their baby [xx] mls of formula every three hours. They set alarm clocks! They often end up feeding their baby when the baby isn’t hungry, and don’t give a little more when they know the baby is still hungry after they are fed. This is “medicalizing” food and it is not only silly, it can be harmful.
In our personal lives we medicalizing food (aka diets… which don’t work in the long run)…and we medicalize exercise. We have all learned the “dose” of exercise that is now recommended: 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes/week of vigorous exercise (plus weight training twice a week). When you step back and think about it… really? The same “dose” for all of us? The same “dose” every week?
We evolved to be couch potatoes
The struggle to exercise is normal! We are fighting evolutionary pressure to not waste energy, to move only enough to take care of our needs and the needs of our community. Our bodies haven’t changed over the centuries. What has changed is our environment, which has become so efficient that we don’t have to move as much to walk through our day. So how do we fight back against our programing to be couch potatoes while honoring the need to keep our bodies physically healthy?
Just move (which you already do)
“… if you are a typical person who barely exercises, it would take you just an hour or two of walking per day to be as physically active as a hunter-gatherer. (p. 19)
The average healer in a hospital easily meets the goal of walking for more than an hour a day, Congratulations! You don’t need to “go to the gym” for another hour! There are other reasons to exercise (you will have to find a way to lift weights and stretch), so don’t take this as carte blanche to ignore your need to be fit, but quit beating yourself up for not “exercising”.
Sitting for prolonged periods is not good for you, primarily because it promotes the slow burn of mild inflammation. You don’t have to medicalize this, either, but don’t sit without breaks. Just stand up, fidget, walk to the water fountain… whatever it takes to move.
Breaking a sweat doing something you love is not only good for your body, it’s also good for your soul (and your sleep). Reframe! Find something you love to do that will let you break a sweat. (Note, the key word is “let”, not “have to”). If it’s outside, even better, but just go play.