Hate exercising? Don’t worry, so did our ancestors | Daniel E Lieberman

Covid restrictions make regular physical activity even harder to achieve – but evolutionary psychology can provide help

Does the prospect of enduring a second lockdown feel like deja vu all over again? And are you worried about its renewed effects on your body? I am. To cope with the monotony and strain of confinement, my family did a lot of stress-baking, but my biggest problem was being too sedentary. I tried to jog regularly, but my inability to go to work or other places curtailed my physical activity levels drastically. According to my iPhone, my average number of daily steps decreased by about half. Apparently, my experience was typical. Working from home and prohibitions on going out also kept people at their desks for nearly an extra hour a day, and surveys suggest that almost half of UK adults claimed to have put on weight during the lockdown.

How can we cope better with a second time round, especially in terms of exercise? Knowing the past helps us understand the present and plan for the future, and I study the evolution, biology and anthropology of human physical activity. In addition to doing experiments in my laboratory, I have travelled all over the world to observe the diverse ways that non-westernised, non-industrial people – that is most of humanity – use their bodies. My experiences and other research have helped me appreciate how recent decades have reduced and altered physical activity in places such as the UK and the US, lockdown or no. Fortunately, these perspectives also provide useful insights into how we can do better during the next lockdown and afterwards.

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