The physical activity requirements of organisms such as us humans are genetically determined. The genomes of organisms, in turn, are shaped by the selective pressures imposed by the environments in which the organisms evolve. Hence, it follows that in order to elucidate what the organic fitness pattern (i.e., a physical activity pattern that is inherent of an organism living in its “environment of evolutionary adaptedness”) and physical activity requirements of a specific organism are; one has to retrace the evolutionary path of that organism’s ancestors. This process forms the foundation for the creation of an organic fitness program, which is a physical activity program that is appropriate for the organism’s genetic make-up and body.
Finding the sweet spot
Both too little and too much physical activity, as measured against the genetically determined physical activity requirements of the organism in question, is detrimental in terms of its impact on health, reproductive function, and libido. This is true regardless of whether we’re talking about a bear, human, panda, or any other organism that can be said to be physically active.
Due to the rapid and profound changes in humans’ environment that have occurred over the past 10.000 years, and in particular the past couple of centuries, many contemporary people engage in less than optimal amounts of physical activity. Up until quite recently, all humans were physically active on a regular basis. Today, however, many of us spend the majority of our wakeful hours sitting on a chair, coach, or car seat, which isn’t necessarily surprising, seeing as we have evolved a tendency to avoid unnecessary exhaustion in order to save energy.
Here’s what a scientific review paper entitled Exercise and gene expression: physiological regulation of the human genome through physical activity has to say about this matter:
The current human genome was moulded and refined through generations of time. We propose that the basic framework for physiologic gene regulation was selected during an era of obligatory physical activity, as the survival of our Late Palaeolithic (50 000–10 000 BC) ancestors depended on hunting and gathering. A sedentary lifestyle in such an environment probably meant elimination of that individual organism. The phenotype of the present day Homo sapiens genome is much different from that of our ancient ancestors, primarily as a consequence of expressing evolutionarily programmed Late Palaeolithic genes in an environment that is predominantly sedentary. In this sense, our current genome is maladapted, resulting in abnormal gene expression, which in turn frequently manifests itself as clinically overt disease. (1)
Another, often overlooked, issue with respects to the physical activity patterns of modern humans has to do with excessive training. We are fairly flexible and adaptable with regards to how much and what type of physical activity we can safely perform. That said, the human body isn’t unbreakable. It’s well-equipped to deal with fairly high levels of low-moderate intensity activities such as walking; however, it doesn’t do so well when it’s subjected to a lot of intense exercise. High-intensity, high-volume training that is performed on a very frequent basis is detrimental with respects to its impact on health. Typically, it’s even more harmful than inadequate exercise. This is true regardless of whether we’re talking about bodybuilding-type training, endurance running, or any other activity that involves physical exhaustion.
The Paleolithic legacy
Our genes haven’t changed that much since the Paleolithic (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Hence, our physical activity requirements haven’t changed much either (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). The difference between us and our primal ancestors is not so much to do with our genes, but rather with our environment. Unlike our ancestors, who had to be physically active in order to survive, we have the option of going through most of our lives mostly sitting down. We’ve created an environment that allows for sedentary behavior. Physical activity is rarely imposed upon us. We have to choose to be physically active.
Obviously, all Paleolithic humans weren’t equally physically active or engaged in exactly the same types of activities. That said, there is a lot of overlap as to the amounts and types of physical activity that different hunter-gatherers perform (5, 6). The goal when designing an organic fitness program for contemporary humans is not to replicate every aspect of this characteristic physical activity pattern of hunter-gatherers, but rather to use that pattern as a template or foundation for creating an exercise program that is appropriate for the modern man. Things have to be adapted to modern conditions. For example, there’s no reason to shun the barbell squat exercise simply because hunter-gatherers don’t have access to any sorts of gym equipment.
Moreover, inter-individual differences with respects to health status, fitness niveau, and training objectives have to be taken into account when an exercise program for each individual is to be created. Not everyone has similar goals or can handle the same amounts of physical activity. Someone who’s very fit and don’t suffer from any health problems can obviously tolerate a lot more activity than someone who’s unfit and sick.
The Organic Fitness Pyramid, as shown below, is an exercise template, it’s obviously not a program that is tailor made for any one person in particular.
Natural movement in the modern world
The meaning of the phrase Natural Movement in the subtitle of the Organic Fitness Pyramid is two-folded. First off, it refers to movement that conforms to how we’re designed to move our bodies. I.e., natural movement is movement that is unrestricted by man-made exercise apparatus such as shoulder and chest press machines. There isn’t necessarily harmful to use that type of equipment every now and then, but that type of training has nothing to do with organic fitness.
Second, the phrase natural movement can be used to refer to movement that is imposed or determined by nature. In that sense, it fits well with the things mentioned in the beginning of this article, in the sense that organisms are forced to move as a result of the struggle for existence that exists in nature. Many of us who live in the modern world don’t live in a natural environment and don’t have to move much. However, it’s not our current conditions that form the basis of the Organic Fitness Pyramid, it’s the conditions of our evolutionary past. It’s nature – or more accurately, the environment – that shapes the genomes of organisms, and hence, also their physical activity requirements. This forms the basis of the orgaaic fitness concept.