For much of history, human beings needed to be physically active every day in order to hunt or gather food — or to avoid becoming food themselves. It was an active lifestyle, but one thing it didn’t include was any kind of formal exercise.
Daniel Lieberman is a professor in the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard. He says that the notion of “getting exercise” — movement just for movement’s sake — is a relatively new phenomenon in human history.
“Until recently, when energy was limited and people were physically active, doing physical activity that wasn’t necessarily rewarding, just didn’t happen,” Lieberman says. “When I go to these [remote African tribal] villages, I’m the only person who gets up in the morning and goes for a run. And often they laugh at me. They think I’m just absolutely bizarre. … Why would anybody do something like that?”
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