The western societies have subdued the harsh environment that kept our ancestors in mandatory wandering and gathering for livelihood. Less than 2% of United States population is engaged in agriculture with one farmer providing the food need of about 140 Americans. However, with this enormous productivity that makes physical inactivity unnecessary, we still carry the nomadic gene of our ancestors that needs to be constantly on the move. It is therefore not surprising that the incidence of obesity continues to rise as we have lost the cyclic famine-feast balance due to constant feasting in increasingly sedentary environment. This twin combination of overconsumption of food and decreased physical activity triggers the inherent disposition to incidence of modern chronic diseases.
Probably because regular physical activity or exercise is not the easy way to go, western societies have hyped the effects of diet far more than the need for regular exercise or moderate physical activity. Indeed, how much we consume does not necessarily matter as long as we are able to burn it off without a net energy balance. This is evident in the Amish community who consumes same kind of diet as contemporary Americans but have less incidence of obesity due to the lifestyle of daily physical activity. On the other hand, as an immigrant, I have noticed what I call “living in America effect” among immigrants from developing countries who easily rack up the weight within one to few years of getting to the United States.
In spite of great advancement in medicine and technology, about 200,000 Americans die prematurely every year due to direct effect of physical inactivity. Unfortunately, when exercise is mentioned, it seems always about losing weight, which in itself is not bad. However, losing weight should not be the focus as much as keeping healthy. In fact, a sedentary thin individual has higher risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke than an obese person who is chronically active. Literature is full of evidence showing that regular exercise or moderate physical activity can prevent, delay or reverse onset of modern chronic medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and even some cancers.
Interestingly, wild animals do not have chronic diseases like domestic pets. Even in the twenty-first century, chronic diseases are reportedly almost non-existent in the modern day hunting and gathering societies. Therefore in this time of progressive physical inactivity, where Google robotic cars have logged 500,000 miles, there should be a conscious effort to stay active and eat right. The population needs to find appropriate balance that raises our daily physical activity level and reduces excessive consumption of food in the face of modern conveniences and abundant food supply. No one said it better than Benjamin Franklin, who reportedly had gout, with the quote stating “leave me and I promise faithfully nevermore to play at chess, but to take exercise daily and live temperately”.
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Mokdad, A. H., Marks, J.S., Stroup, D. F., & Gerberding, J. L. (2004). Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000. Retrieved from www.cspdp.org
Roberts, C. K. & Barnard, J. R. (2005). Effects of exercise and diet on chronic disease. Journal of Applied Physiology, 98(1). Retrieved from jap.physiology.org
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United States Department of Agriculture (2011). History of Extension. Retrieved from www.usda.gov
About the Author
Dr. Mukaila “Mak” Kareem had his Elementary education in rural Nigeria where daily physical activity was a way of life. He is a home health Physical therapist with a non-for profit Hospital in Southern Indiana.
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