Is Exercise Really Medicine? An Evolutionary Perspective

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An evolutionary perspective helps evaluate the extent to which exercise is medicine and to explain the exercise paradox: why people tend to avoid exercise despite its benefits. Many lines of evidence indicate that humans evolved to be adapted for regular, moderate amounts of endurance physical activity into late age. However, because energy from food was limited, humans also were selected to avoid unnecessary exertion, and most anatomical and physiological systems evolved to require stimuli from physical activity to adjust capacity to demand. Consequently, selection never operated to cope with the long-term effects of chronic inactivity. However, because all adaptations involve trade-offs, there is no evolutionary-determined dose or type of physical activity that will optimize health. Furthermore, because humans evolved to be active for play or necessity, efforts to promote exercise will require altering environments in ways that nudge or even compel people to be active and to make exercise fun.

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