Lecture: 'Is Exercise Medicine? An Evolutionary Medical Perspective'
October 6, 2016
Room: Events Hall
Harvard University paleoanthropologist Dan Lieberman will use the lens of evolution to consider the kinds of physical activity and inactivity for which humans are adapted, and then consider their implications for health.
Most essentially, natural selection traded power for endurance in the human genus more than 2 million years ago, transforming our ancestors into superlative endurance athletes able to walk and run long distances in the heat. However, because our ancestors were physically active hunter-gatherers who needed to develop appropriate physiological capacities for exercise in energy-limited conditions, we are selected to match capacity with demand largely in response to exercise-induced stress. Further, we never evolved adaptations to cope with an absence of physical activity. As a result, although we think of exercise as medicine, it is really the absence of exercise that accelerates aging and promotes disease. Considered in this light, the unprecedented epidemic of non-infectious diseases the human species now confronts is the result of evolutionary mismatches caused by our biological heritage as endurance athletes causing us to be inadequately adapted to post-industrial environments that no longer require physical activity. An evolutionary perspective offers important insights for how to help each other prevent illness and promote health through activity.