Last week I made the ‘Southern Fried Chicken’ that my brother-from-another-mother used to make me when we were in university.
I remembered being horrified that the ‘gravy’ he made to accompany it was basically the oil from the panfrying process with flour added. It looked stodgy, and I commented that SURELY that couldn’t be healthy.
However, as he pointed out, his family from down south were farmers, and would eat this at lunch in order to fuel the rest of their day. None of them were obese, but because they were always moving — performing the many varied tasks a farm demands — they were “strong like an ox,” and lived to ripe old age.
It’s a fair comment that people who move constantly as part of their jobs would have different caloric requirements (cooking oil issue aside), and as I stood there (trying to fry chicken in as little fat as I could manage), my mind wandered, considering how our bodies have changed over the generations as our technology, habits, jobs and world has changed.
Our Physical History
If you go way back to prehistoric times, the hunter-gatherers would have been on the move constantly…they would have died had they not. There would always be food to gather, or firewood, or water runs to make. They were likely never NOT moving, and their lifestyle helped shape the evolution of our human bodies.
Even until as recently as 150 years ago, farming was a LABORIOUS process, and one which required a large percentage of the community, in order to ensure everyone was fed. Other ‘manufacturing’ processes were similarly physical, and required serious stamina and/or strength.
The Advent of Science
Then the renaissance and the age of enlightenment hit, and knowledge became de rigeur. Scientists became celebrities, and inventors everywhere got busy creating the earliest version of the world we know today, such as Leonardo DaVinci.
During the industrial revolution, inventors creatively applied that knowledge to improving the human condition by developing automation, mechanics, and self-powered devices. Other scientists dedicated themselves to searching for the truths of the natural world, the chemical world and the cosmos.
Many of these inventions were, at the time, only available to the wealthy, such as gas lighting, but it sparked innovation, hope and something to strive toward.
The World Wars (at least, in the western world) only served to push invention forward further, with the necessity of building killing machines quickly, efficiently and cheaply. Bad for soldiers, but good for industry — and it’s after the end of the second world war that we started to see dishwashers, electric toasters and vacuum cleaners become a normal part of every household, even if they were novel at the time.
After all, the inventors never went away, they just needed a new focus for their creativity; there was no longer any need for them to keep designing the machines of war.
The Beginning of the End
The fifties were a huge turning point for the human body, as I see it, because it’s when we started to get lazy in the name of progress. The number of cars exploded on the road, and replaced the previous forms of transportation: walking and biking.
Fast food was developed, as well as processed meals; we see the advent of shake-n-bake and TV dinners during this decade. Housewives could sit back and sip their cocktails instead of cooking meals from scratch.
And there was also TV — instead of heading straight outside to play, kids learned to wake up and turn on cartoons.
Obesity on the Rise
It’s from that turning point that we start to see the rise in obesity rates. More sitting, less taxing work, and fewer whole foods started to take their toll.
Consider where we’re at today. Sure, our fingers get a workout typing madly for 8+ hours a day, but what about the rest of our muscles? No core strength was required in the writing of this article, for example. Even in jobs that require moving — such as warehouse jobs — technology has enabled us to perform our jobs from the seat of a forklift.
Hark, the Dawn of Automation
What’s next for humanity, when we have self-driving cars about to take away that duty from us, as well? How long before AI and advanced robotics replace the rest of the movement-dependent jobs? What will we do with ourselves, and how do we ensure our bodies have the strength to survive our own existence?
Are we destined to sit there, as things are made for us, brought to us, and all we have to do is move our fingers across a flat interface? (Wall-E, anyone?)
Our Responsibility as Human Beings
What have we replaced hard work with, then? Well, some haven’t accommodated for our new sedentary lifestyles, which is why obesity is now an epidemic of extremely scary proportions. This disease has been shown to change our DNA, which is then passed down through to the next generation, who has to deal with those repercussions as well as their own inactivity.
Our bodies need strong skeletal structures held up by lean muscle mass. How do we make that happen, when Netflix has such a strong lineup of excellent shows?
Many do exercise — we fit in a yoga class here, a HiiT workout there, perhaps sign up for a fitness challenge that we promise ourselves we’ll stick to, even though 73% of people won’t.
Some people join $10/month gyms, where they half-heartedly walk on a treadmill or sit on the bike while they text friends and scroll though Instagram. There’s no heart to that, even though it’s most certainly better than nothing, so it’s no wonder we struggle to go and git’er done.
Automation Could Lead to Utopia
It’s a scary prospect, having your job replaced by machines, but consider what it unlocks. In theory, as it did back in the 50s, it unlocks more free time. However, it’s time for us to make an informed choice about how we spend that time.
We COULD create more social platforms that keep us scrolling ever longer, OR we could choose to head out to a game of pick-up. We could text each other back and forth endlessly, OR we could meet up for a dance class and be TRULY social creatures.
The amazing thing about spending time with people is that it makes us feel better — physically and emotionally. We have the opportunity through technology to reduce the amount of time spent working so that we can spend more time LIVING.
Back in the Real World…
The reality is that probably won’t be our outcome, even if it is something to strive for. But that still leaves us with: how do we properly take care of ourselves so we can pass on good habits and healthy DNA to the next generation?
Well, we have to consider ourselves holistically. It’s great to do a yoga class, but what about strength? And it’s impressive to be able to bench-press like a beast, but what about cardio?
Our bodies need a balance of activity to be truly functional, and the great news is that it’s easier than ever to find those activities.
Health science has also been progressing over the decades. We understand better than ever before in human history the kinds of exercise we need to keep ourselves healthy.
The truth is that we need to engage in different activities — strength training, yoga, cardio — as well as applying those in practical settings, such as play and dance.
Human beings defend their rights fiercely — their right to speak, write, live, love — adamant that we should be allowed free will to make our own choices. Once earned, though, we neglect to use it wisely. Why have we fought for the right to make our own decisions, only to avoid the responsibility of making them?
We blame everything — including kids, the weather, a light sniffle, or any other number of interventions — for our inability to do the workout or engage in the activity that our physical forms need to be healthy.
We want free will, but we don’t want to apply it to the choices we make?
Time to Put on Our Big Kid Pants
Is this what thousands of years of human history boils down to? — that we destroy our planet and our bodies with our irresponsible choices?
It’s time to create a new paradigm, where we take responsibility for making the tough choices, and where we take responsibility for not just our actions, but our persons. We owe it to the next generation, as much as we owe it to ourselves.
If the mark of an adult is that they make the hard choices anyway, because they recognize what’s the right thing to do, shouldn’t this include our physical activity and our commitment to health? (Don’t even get me started on what poor health does to our economy.)
At least in the Western world, we pretty much have all the tools and resources we need to live full, active, healthy, inspired lives. The only thing left, from what I see, is choosing to pursue those. But remember: we were designed to move, so find your own way to fulfill that basic human need for yourself.
Catherine Chan is the Founder & CEO of FitIn.io, a new fitness platform connecting Canadians with personal trainers/instructors, fitness, exercise or movement classes near them in mere minutes. A mental health advocate, she has dedicated a part of her platform to mental health and wellness classes, promoting movement + mindfulness in order to find profound, sustainable health.
This article was originally published on Medium: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/a-short-history-of-movement-1cb77e5e31e4?postPublishedType=repub