Our mind is designed by our past. Even though we are standing in an elevator or sitting in an airplane, it still runs programs that was developed a long time ago, to live well in a hut, a cave, or on a tree. And because we still use the beauty filters installed back then, we find the body that is ‘fit’ to the past environments attractive—the body that can walk long, carry heavy things, climb up trees.
However, the kind of body is not necessary anymore. The ability to climb up a tree doesn’t guarantee a better chance of survival in an insurance company. (Not metaphorically.) Being able to lift heavy things doesn’t make you a better husband than being reasonable and considerate. And year after year, technology is freeing us from tasks that we used to do with our hands. And this trend will not stop anytime soon. Even trifling activities such as running to answer a ringing home phone is the story of old days after cell phones were introduced.
While allowing us to move less, technology allows us to be weak too. To recover the body we are handed in the beginning, what should we do?
If our body’s health and beauty standards are still set to the prehistoric era, one good way can be to return to the lifestyle of the past—the hunter-gatherer style. But we know that’s impossible—no one would give up all the comfort technology has brought. So instead, we build a space that resembles jungle or cave and perform movements we might have done in the past.
What you do in the gym is essentially that—lifting something from the ground, putting it on our shoulder and carry, climbing up trees. We are basically doing the activities of the past.
And here is an irony: After the thousands years of struggles to free our body from ‘heavy works,’ we are voluntarily doing them again. While spending money and time to advance our society, we spend money and time to visit back to the past environment. If our ancestors somehow saw us, they would scratch their head and wonder: “What’s the point?”
But this irony is hardly to be resolved. It is too big a problem any individual can solve. This ‘irony of progress’ exists because we humans don’t stop progressing, disrupting the status quo and make things easier. Tocqueville already observed and declared: Consider any individual at any period of his life, and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort.
So if you are like me, who are not ready to give up all the comfort modern inventions have offered, it is wise to accept the reality and figure out how we take advantage of the best of both worlds.
And it is visiting the past while residing in the present—going to the gym.
Some people find working out in the gym is somewhat contrived and unnatural. I used to be one of them too. After all, you lift heavy things without getting paid; You run on a treadmill while in reality you don’t physically advance at all; You are just burning what you have eaten and not really learning new skills or honing on them.
But even with this apparent “pointlessness,” more and more flock to fitness club and start a weight training program. Fitness population worldwide is ever growing. And from an evolutionary perspective, it is very natural.
Our evolutionary journey has been survival of the fittest—or correctly, the fitter. The ones who were fitter to the environment survived, leaving the less-fitters behind, left more kids and their gene-holders got more numerous in the group. And as the direct descendants of the winners, or humbly, survivors, we inherited not only the fit body but also the preference for fitness. Because it was in that environment human body’s function and beauty could reach its peak, in order to recover to the best version of us, we need to train with the movements our body is evolved for, the ‘past’ movements that are natural to the body. In the past, only those tested and proved to be ‘fit’ to the environment could outlast and reproduce. We now go to the fitness club to get fit. It may not be a coincidence that fitness club is called so.
<Further Readings and References>
– Thucydides, for example, described the democratic Athenians of the fifth century B.C. as a restless people “addicted to innovation,” and centuries later, St. Paul found that the Athenians “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” The Death of Expertise (16p)