There are many levels of irony about living in our modern, Western civilization. One of the most striking, to me, is the fact that we find ourselves thinking that we have to “make time” for exercise.
Our ancestors–almost all of them–were never faced with this kind of problem, any more than are the millions of other species of animals living in the world. Exercise is not a special task or chore for most creatures, it is part of the process of staying alive and being healthy. Really, that’s what it should be for us as well. We know that our bodies want to be used, they thrive with that use and become stronger and healthier, in general, the more active we are. Yet, the progress of our civilization has, curiously, led us to alienate ourselves more and more from our natural, active natures.
Many of our modern conveniences were created to spare us from the “horrors” of physical labor. Automobiles, escalators, elevators, tractors…these things are all, of course, truly remarkable and incredibly useful, but because we have them, we’ve gotten into the habit of relying solely upon them. After only a little bit of time doing this, we realized that our sedentary, machine-driven lifestyles were often leading us to be terribly unhealthy. Its not so much that our lives have been shortened…modern infection control, including vaccines, antisepsis, antibiotics and health codes have led us all to survive and even become unaware of the simple ailments that killed most of our forebears. Our lives have instead been diminished, not in quantity but in quality. It is wonderful to be able to drive hundreds of miles to see a distant relative at a moment’s notice. It is NOT wonderful to have to drive to the corner store because we’re too out of shape to walk there.
In recent years we’ve learned that astronauts who spend very much time in space, without the need to fight gravity, rapidly lose bone density and muscle mass, and their hearts weaken as well. To combat this tendency they have to use very clever means to engage their bodies and to keep those organs fit. Yet we here on the ground, deep within Earth’s gravity well and not going through free-fall, often might as well be floating in orbit, for all the work we give our bodies.
Awareness of this issue has led to a huge industry of gyms, exercise equipment, supplements and how-to books about exercise. We strive to fit time to go to the gym into our busy, modern schedules. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course…I’m all for the gym. But you don’t have to have a membership at the expensive local health club, nor even any special equipment, to keep your body as healthy as you can. All you have to do is live just a little bit more like your ancestors did.
So, if you have to go to the store, and it’s not that far away…walk there instead of driving. Obviously this won’t work if you have to buy a great many groceries at one time…but maybe multiple trips with smaller hauls spread throughout your week would be a better idea for your health, anyway.
If your local store isn’t QUITE local enough to walk to, well, then drive there. Then, instead of jockeying around for the very closest spot you can find, park at the far end of the parking lot, and walk to the store from there. It may not seem like very much, but if that’s so, then it also shouldn’t be very much trouble.
When you’re going into a building and need to go somewhere other than the first floor, why not take the stairs? Walking up stairs is terrific, low-impact aerobic exercise and it keeps your quads nice and strong! Okay, if you live in New York City and need to get to the 50th floor, walking ALL the way might be impractical unless you’re a marathoner with a lot of time on your hands. Yet, even so, you can take the elevator up to two or three floors shy of your destination and walk the rest of the way. Then you can do the same thing on the way down, which will, after all, be quite a bit easier than going up.
Also, if you live in a good enough climate, at least part of the year…ride a bike to work sometimes instead of driving. This won’t be great if you have a sixty mile commute each way (again, unless you’re a distance athlete and have a rather flexible schedule), but if your commute is more reasonable, then biking is a great alternative. It saves you gas money (a big deal in our current economic climate), and it produces less carbon dioxide than does an internal combustion engine…though it DOES produce some, since that’s one waste product our bodies produce just as our machines do.
All these simple measures can keep your body healthier and keep you feeling stronger. They will probably also make you a bit thinner and shapelier, which is nice. Still, feeling and being healthy is far more important than being thin…as any famine victim would gladly tell you if they had the chance.
In closing, the key to being physically fit and active in the modern world–and to feeling more alive and vigorous and strong–doesn’t have to involve expensive gym memberships, aerobic classes, treadmills and weight machines. All those things are great, and I have nothing but praise for those who discipline themselves to make their bodies as healthy as possible. Yet, even for those without the money and/or the time for the more advanced techniques, sometimes just letting go of a few modern conveniences can make you a little more like your robust ancestors…without the worrisome threat of infection and dangerous predators with which they had to contend!