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Evolutionary Fitness Evolutionary Fitness

Excerpt from Evolutionary Fitness by Arthur De Vany, Ph.D. Copyright 2005

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The Philosophy of Evolutionary Fitness

If you think about the challenges our ancestors faced it will help you realize that what some fitness and motivational experts see as motivational problems are actually evolved adaptations. Recognition and acceptance go a long way toward helping you make healthy changes. The fact that you are alive is a remarkable thing. The odds against it are great. The genes you carry contain information from a continuous strand of surviving organisms that extends 2 billion years back in time. You are an improbable event and your existence is testimony to the toughness and adaptiveness of the ancestral line from which you come. You are a survivor, well equipped to live and be successful in the world for which your body and mind are adapted. Recognize, however, that the world for which your genes encode a successful design is not today’s world; it is the world of some 10,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Your brain and body ”expect” you to live as a hunter-gatherer. They are highly adaptive by design, for that is the key requirement of our ancestral lifeway. But, a natural life is one of movement and action, of challenge and response, of variety and adaptation. Your brain still ”sees” sensory inputs as though you are a hunter-gatherer and, at the instinctual level, directs your actions according to what spells adaptive success in the environment of your ancestors. (Example: you freeze before a large audience because your ancestors increased their odds of surviving when exposed on open ground by freezing to escape detection.) If you accept that some parts of this metaphor are true of you, you will be more relaxed and less apt to punish yourself for things you do, or don’t do (like get out and move around).

Laziness and over-eating are adaptations that let your ancestors pass their genes down to you. These labels place over-critical value judgements on what are evolved adaptations. Energy was a precious resource in the ancestral environment, and it still is in the third world where people barely get enough to eat. What we call laziness is an adaptive, instinctual behavior that kept our ancestors from wasting precious energy in a world where high-energy expenditure was required for food. Because the agricultural revolution dramatically lowered the price of carbohydrate, we have abundant and cheap food energy available at nearly zero energy expenditure. Because cheap carbohydrate is all around us, the caloric return to our foodseeking energy expenditures is so high now that we have to find ways to expend energy in healthful ways. Evolutionary training ”tricks” the brain into thinking it is still 40,000 BC and resets your metabolism as well.

Variety and play are the essential human attributes. By keeping your work outs brief and exhilarating you won’t get bored. By adding lots of outdoor activity and play, you will enjoy the power and fitness you gain. If you start a new sport, or pick up one long neglected as you begin evolutionary training, you will see how the power you gain improves your play. The feedback between the training and your new power in the sport will be habit forming. (The evolutionary basis of sport seems clear. For example, the number of players in most popular team sports today is about equal to the number of prime age males that would be alive in a typical Paleolithic band of hunter-gatherers.)

So, train outdoors often and in preference to any other sort of training. The gym is essential to build and retain healthy muscle mass, flexibility and strength. But, the gym is cognitively sterile. Don’t walk on a treadmill, get outside and walk over uneven terrain. Hike with a heavy pack, sprint now and then when you take a walk. Play tag with your kids.

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