An evolutionary perspective on human physical activity: implications for health

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Sep;136(1):153-9. doi: 10.1016/s1095-6433(03)00208-3.


At present, human genes and human lives are incongruent, especially in affluent Western nations. When our current genome was originally selected, daily physical exertion was obligatory; our biochemistry and physiology are designed to function optimally in such circumstances. However, today's mechanized, technologically oriented conditions allow and even promote an unprecedentedly sedentary lifestyle. Many important health problems are affected by this imbalance, including atherosclerosis, obesity, age-related fractures and diabetes, among others. Most physicians recognize that regular exercise is a critical component of effective health promotion regimens, but there is substantial disagreement about details, most importantly volume: how much daily caloric expenditure, as physical activity, is desirable. Because epidemiology-based recommendations vary, often confusing and alienating the health-conscious public, an independent estimate, arising from a separate scientific discipline, is desirable, at least for purposes of triangulation. The retrojected level of ancestral physical activity might meet this need. The best available such reconstruction suggests that the World Health Organization's recommendation, a physical activity level of 1.75 ( approximately 2.1 MJ (490 kcal)/d), most closely approximates the Paleolithic standard, that for which our genetic makeup was originally selected.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genome, Human*
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / genetics*
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*