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Humans Evolved to Exercise

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Humans Evolved to Exercise

Unlike our ape cousins, humans require high levels of physical activity to be healthy

Scientific American,

15 min read
5 take-aways
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Exercise is good for us – but it’s also an evolutionary necessity.

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Recent studies in the development of human physiology show that exercise is an evolutionary necessity rather than just a “nice to have.” It is therefore also one of the traits that sets humans apart from their closest relatives, the apes, who live a largely sedentary life without any adverse effects on their health. Herman Pontzer, associate professor for evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, found that human beings’ time as hunters and gatherers is hardwired into their bodies and impacts their brain, immune and nervous system. This well-written and informative article shows that, without a significant amount of physical activity, humans will never be able to function at their optimum level. The article will benefit anyone concerned with human health and lifestyle.


Despite sharing over 95% of their DNA with humans, apes require a much lower level of physical activity to stay healthy and develop normally.

Apes are humans’ closest relative, but their daily schedule and physical requirements are very different. Apes spend about ten hours a day resting, grooming and eating, and they sleep for about nine to ten hours. Their activity level is sedentary, which for a human would lead to clogged arteries due to high cholesterol, higher risk of heart disease and a lot of body fat. Yet none of these life-shortening health issues affect apes, even if they live in captivity.

Fossils of prehistoric primates show that there was little difference between the ape and the human genus for a long time.

Fossils of prehistoric primates provide evidence of their lifestyle. The ...

About the Author

Herman Pontzer is an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. He studies how evolution has shaped human physiology and health.

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