Our mind is designed by our past. Even though we are standing in an elevator or sitting in an airplane, our mind still runs programs developed to serve us 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, this kind of body is not necessary for modern life. The ability to forage long doesn’t guarantee a better chance of survival in an insurance company. Being able to lift heavy things doesn’t make you a better husband. 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 the old days after mobile phones were introduced.
While allowing us to move less, technology allows us to be weak. To recover the body we are supposed to have, what should we do?
If our body’s beauty and health 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 few will give up the modern comfort that technology has offered. So instead, we build a space that mimics a jungle or a cave and perform movements we might have done in the past.
What you do in the fitness gym is essentially that—lifting something from the ground, putting it on our shoulder and carrying, climbing up trees; Running long and fast enough to hunt or avoid being hunted. Those are activities of the past.
And here we see an irony: After thousands of years of struggles to free us from ‘heavy works,’ we are voluntarily doing them again. While spending money and time to get away from physical uncomfortables, we spend money and time to put us back to them. If our hunter-gatherer ancestors somehow saw us, they would scratch their head and ask: “What’s the point?”
But this ‘irony of progress’ will exist as long as we don’t stop inventing and innovating, hence making things easier. And we won’t. 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 is 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 lifting weights in a room somewhat unnatural and contrived. I used to be one of those too. After all, you lift heavy things repetitively without any visible purpose; You run on a treadmill while in reality you don’t physically advance a little; You are just burning what you have just eaten.
But even with this apparent ‘pointlessness’, year after year, more people start lifting weights and the fitness population keeps growing worldwide. Why?
Because from an evolutionary perspective, it makes so much sense.
Our evolutionary journey has been survival of the fittest—or correctly, the fitter. The ones who were fitter to the environment managed to survive while the devil took the hindmost. And only they could leave kids so that the genes with surviving traits got more numerous in the population pool. We, as the direct descendants of the survivors, inherited not only the fit body but also the eye for noticing it. Therefore, what we find attractive tends to be healthy, strong and functional.
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.
A fitness gym is where weights are prepared to let us do so. Therefore, it may not be a coincidence that ‘fitness’ gym 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)