Don’t let “the future” turn into “too late”

Exercise, Brain, Daily, Purpose, Future You

The forward march of evolution? Perhaps we missed a fork in the road…

Yes, we’ve come a long way. And despite the difficulty to perceive it, we are still evolving as a species. Though perhaps not as fast as our capabilities to harvest (exploit) the natural world around us. Or the structure of our society.

But it is not all bad, because our brains are also quite capable of adapting when our bodies have not yet done so. It is not all gloom and doom. Really.

Which is not to say our brains don’t need all the help they can get. Signposts, so to speak, on the evolutionary road.

A short while ago, I talked about how a big part of what’s holding a lot of us back from exercising regularly is that, despite all the evidence we have, we tend to discount the future too much for our own good.

In that post, I ended up suggesting a strategy for reducing the strength of that effect, to help our brains deal with it: Having frequent good looks at ourselves. Not in a mirror, because it is not about how we look today; instead, we need to look at what some refer to as the “Future Self,” the person you want to be when you get old(er).

Even that, however, does not always suffice. Because there are strong forces aligned against our regular exercising.

No, there is no great conspiracy or big money interests in fattening us up. Just plain human nature: Mainly, a tendency to want to make money (a proxy for controlling reproductive resources), which drives most business activities, including the food industry; also, a propensity to not understand just how optimistic we tend to be about the future.

It is this latter part that I want to talk about today.

The Lure of the Future

Perhaps you’ve had a chance to watch the talk I mentioned in that previous post. If so, then what I’m about to say will already be familiar. If not, I still urge you to watch it, even though I’m about to give you another big chunk of knowledge I gleaned from it.

At the same time as we discount the future benefits of being active and healthy, we tend to overestimate how much more willing to exercise we will be tomorrow. Like last time, I have a few pictures, also shamelessly lifted from the excellent talk by Dr. Whatshername, to bring the point home…

Exercise, Daily, Everyday

The present eventually turns into the future. But is it the future we had anticipated?

In a nutshell, today you might say “I’m tired, and I have a lot to do, so I’ll rest today and exercise tomorrow.” (Note: This can be quite alright, given that it is the exception, and that you do, in fact, regularly exercise. Rest is often a good idea, and listening to your body when it asks for it is always in good order.)

But what happens the next day? And the day after that? Without a strong commitment device (a Purpose, ideally, or perhaps some other mechanisms to help us in the short term), many of us simply overestimate how willing they will be to exercise in the future, and mainly fail to do it in the present.

It is called the “Present Bias,” but it could also be called “Procrastination.” I like to think of it as boundless optimism about the future, because what it comes down to is precisely that: An optimism about how much more willing and capable to exercise we will be tomorrow.

Admit it, you’ve felt that way. I sure have, all too often.

What’s wrong with that?

Exercise, Fitness, Health, Everyday

Today is the day. Everyday.

Well, when tomorrow comes, it is no longer “tomorrow,” but again “today.” And guess what? “Today” we feel just like we did on the “today” which was “yesterday.”

Confused yet?

Don’t think about it too much. Just keep this in mind: Today is the only time you have to make the right choices.

And there is a strategy to help your brain with that as well.

No-brainer Decisions

Yup, you guessed it (probably): The trick is to not think about making that decision, and just do what you know you need to do.

Don’t consider what you feel like doing tomorrow. Consider that exercising is the right thing to do today.

That’s a big part of the reason why I chose “No-brainer Fitness” as the name for this blog. I recognized a long time ago that many of the decisions we agonize over should not be agonized over. They need to become automatic. No-brainers. Because that is a good way to follow one’s Purpose on a daily basis.

By the way, the same applies to food as well. In everything I wrote about exercise, in this post and the previous one, you can substitute “eating right” and get the same result:

Diet, Exercise, Daily, Everyday, Health, Fitness

Exercise and diet, diet and exercise; two parts of the same future discounting and present bias.

It all comes down to the choices we make on a daily basis.

Those choices are the signposts of your own personal evolution towards fitness and a long, active life.

Being able to imagine the future, thinking about Future You, is a powerful tool. But too much optimism about the future, only just a day away, is also a dangerous procrastination device. It is not called a “double-edged” sword for nothing.

Hence my recommendation: Keep Future You in mind as you go through each day, and don’t consider what you might do tomorrow. Decide, each day, to work towards that Future You.

Perhaps more importantly, don’t even make the decision. Just exercise. It’s a no-brainer! Or it has to become one…

_____________

Image credits: All images in this post were shamelessly lifted from an excellent lecture given by Michele Belot, Professor of Economics and Director of the Behavioural Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh (BLUE), as the third lecture in the 2014 Our Changing World series, entitled “Behavioural Economics and Health Behaviours“. It is a really good lecture, about which I have spoken in a previous post.

Getting to the gut of the problem

I’m really trying not to talk about food anymore.

Food, Diet, NOT FOOD, Everyday

Bacteria (and archaea) are your friends. Feed them well.

But I keep being drawn back to it, somehow.

Here are the reasons, I suspect:

1) Exercising more is very simple, and you can find all the advice you can possibly need elsewhere on my blog. So without going into highly specialized training regimen, which I don’t advocate anyway, there are only so many things that can be said about moving everyday. It is simple, but it requires effort. Everyday.

2) Food is fascinating, pleasant, and something we do effortlessly multiple times per day. So fixating on it comes easily. Also, the entire process from the food we eat to the energy we have to spend is so complex that, depending on your intentions, you can fool a lot of people some of the time, or try to enlighten one person at a time, with the same amount of energy.

So, because I’d rather enlighten a single person (I’m that kind of person), and I’ve talked about how to move more aplenty, and because more people want to read about food, let’s talk about food.

Actually, let’s talk about food that feeds the many, on top of feeding the one person who eats it. In so doing, we will get to what some have come to consider the “gut of the problem.”

Let’s talk about the food that feeds the bacteria and archaea that live in our guts.

A summary of recent research published in Scientific American spells it out quite nicely. You should really read it.

To save you time, however, here are the main facts, and what they hint at for optimal health:

  • Fact 1: Our digestive system is home to millions of other living beings. It is an ecosystem for them, and there is an interaction between their living, and our absorption of nutrients from food. It is what we refer to as the “gut microbiome” or “gut microbiota.” Or just “microbes” if you prefer.
  • Fact 2: Who says “ecosystem” also says “food chain,” “competition,” “natural selection,” etc. For instance, there’s a constant battle between “good” and “bad” bacteria; between those that help us (by helping our digestion not causing diseases) and those that can hinder us (by causing inflammation, diseases, etc.).
  • Fact 3: The gut microbiome didn’t just appear out of the blue this week; it has evolved along with us (co-evolved is the term). Different species have different gut microbiota. In each case, the gut microbiota has evolved and adapted to thrive off of what the host species typically eat.

Hint 1: Just like our own body should be fed the kind of food it is capable of handling (i.e. food, not too much, mostly plants), so too the bacteria and archaea that live inside us. Basically, the “good” ones strive on a diet that is precisely the kind of diet we should eat. And when the “good” ones don’t strive, then the “bad” ones do, and that can lead to problems for us.

Hint 2: One aspect of the research focused on fiber. We’ve known that fiber is important, and that we don’t have enough in our modern diet, but it seems a big part of the reason is that, without fiber, those “good” bacteria and archaea don’t fare so well.

Hint 3: Moreover, in the absence of enough fiber in our diet, a part of the gut microbes to the next best thing for them: the mucus that lines the walls of our digestive tract, particularly in the large intestine. But we need that mucus for the digestive system to work correctly and for the protection of the rest of our bodies, so when bacteria and archaea eat it, we get ulcers, inflammation, and a slew of other problems.

The article talks about positive results from adding fiber, even just a little, to the diet. It seems to help.

So, go ahead, add fiber to your diet. But not just any fiber.

Real food contains fiber. NOT FOOD that claims to contain fiber often contains the wrong kind of fiber. What I might call NOT FIBER, were it not for the fact that it is, in fact, fiber. Just not the kind that our gut microbiota can be expected to eat.

So we are back to the food we eat. What are we to do?

The same that we’ve known all along: Lots of veggies and fruit. And stay away from NOT FOOD.

No surprise there. Have we learned anything new today?

Yes, I think we have. Or at least this story serves as a reminder.

Nutrition is more complex than “calories in,” and just a count of carbs, proteins, and lipids. What you eat does not end up directly in your blood stream and then inside your cells. It goes through many steps of processing, natural processing, by our guts and the multitude that live in it.

Our own enzymes and guts mechanically and chemically disassemble the food we eat into its basic constituents (glucids, lipids, amino acids, various micro-nutrients) which can then enter the blood stream. What’s left behind is then further processed by gut microbes, and that can sometimes provide more nutrients for us as well.

By further (and co-processing) food, the gut microbiota play an essential role. They help make the whole machinery run smoothly. Provided they get benefits from it as well. Those benefits come from having a relatively safe place to call home and lots of food.

If we create the wrong kind of home for them, or if we provide food that the rowdy relatives prefer, then the “home” becomes less peaceful, and everybody suffers.

Sure, I’m simplifying by using such an analogy, but it is closer to the truth than a lot of the advice out there. (And much better than a car analogy.) Basically, feed your gut bacteria well, by feeding yourself real food (not too much, and mostly from plants), and you’ll improve your digestion.

So next time someone tries to sell you a super food, supplement, or miracle cure for what they claim ails you (but probably doesn’t), simply grab a veggie or a fruit, and chew on that. Everybody involved will feel better…

*****

See the article “Fiber-Famished Gut Microbes Linked to Poor Health” in Scientific American, March 23, 2015, by Katherine Harmon Courage.

Image from Pixabay.

The correct way to run

Running, Technique, Shoes

Shoes matter, but so does technique…

*** Modified post. I’ve been able to get a hold of the original paper about transitioning to Vibram FiveFingers. So read on, or read again, for some slight changes to the text. ***

There’s been noise lately about a settlement that Vibram, the maker of the famous (or infamous, according to some) FiveFingers “shoes”, has agreed to pay to their customers.

The issue is over false claims, or so the class action lawsuit alleged, that FiveFingers prevent injuries and make muscles and tendons stronger.

A quick search on the subject will surely reveal quite a bit, but I’ve sprinkled a few links in this post, to provide more details. First, the oldest reference to the lawsuit I could find, from July 2012.

Blog item from ABC

The most recent article, in a Canadian magazine, appears to provide the conclusion of the process. Note that Vibram has agreed to pay; I’m no lawyer (I’m a scientist), so I would be willing to bet that the issue revolves around what would constitute a solid enough proof of the statements made by Vibram. I’m pretty sure no scientist would be willing to proclaim the statements are proven beyond a doubt. That’s just the way science works…

Blog in Canadian Running

But what fascinates me about this is the tone of some of the articles. Some “reporters” and bloggers clearly showed their stripes and did not hesitate to bash Vibram, minimalist shoes, and the whole barefoot running movement. It felt like a deep, quasi-religious, fighting line has been drawn. I won’t bother you with those articles; the ones in reputable running magazines were far more neutral, and carefully written, as they should be.

Some, however, did something very clumsy, unlike the main magazines: They linked the lawsuit to a piece of research pertaining to indicate that wearing FiveFingers leads a high percentage of runners to foot bone injuries. You can read the news about the report there:

Report on study in Runner’s World

Note that the study, and the lawsuit, are in no way related. But it sure is convenient as a coincidence. Especially for the makers of conventional running shoes.

Before going any further, allow me to state a few key points, just to be clear:

  1. In my experience as runner and coach, it is possible to run correctly in almost any pair of shoes, be they “conventional running shoes” or “minimalist”.
  2. I do not believe there is a conspiracy by running shoe manufacturers to cause harm to runners by making shoes that they know will cause injury. Even though by some accounts 70% of runners using “conventional running shoes” will get hurt at some point.
  3. What I do believe is this: there is a natural tendency to want to protect your business and market share. That’s called having a vested interest in a certain situation. There is no need for any kind of conspiracy when the incentives are aligned. Companies will do what is in their best interest.
  4. There is a correct way of running, and it is easily demonstrated. No matter what anyone in the running shoe industry says about each of us being different. They only try to muddle the issues, and it is very sad.
  5. What has probably happened with the minimalist and barefoot movement is not an indication that the safety and benefits of those shoes have been overstated, but rather that the weakening of our bones, muscles, and tendons over the years of walking, and especially running, in shoes designed to “protect us”, has been grossly under-estimated.

Now, perhaps the lawsuit was brought about by someone “strongly encouraged” to do so by the big shoe manufacturers. And maybe the study referred to in Runner’s World was also similarly sponsored. (There are some issues about that research, so please see at the end of this post for my notes. But the main problem I’ve encountered is that the second-hand source all seem bent on using it to point nasty fingers towards Vibram and minimalist and barefoot running, whereas the research paper was pretty much simply stating that transitioning must be done slowly, and carefully.)

But, ultimately who cares? The lawsuit was settled, so let’s move on. Preferably, by continuing to run.

Full disclosure: I currently own 3 pairs of FiveFingers, and a fourth one I used to own recently “died” after a long and satisfying life. Like some of the commentators on the blog posts and articles I’ve read, if I get a refund from Vibram, I will use the money to get an extra pair of FiveFingers, and I’ll keep using them for running. I even got married in a pair of FiveFingers. I hesitate to call them shoes as to me they are more like gloves for feet. I also own Ecco’s Biom Project shoes, and Asics runners (2 pairs), which I still use at times, when running marathons and ultras, and when racing triathlons. So there.

Now allow me to finish with the main point, before I forget: The correct way to run.

It is my contention that there is such a correct way, as already stated, and that it can be done in any pair of shoes. How do I know?

Not from understanding physics (which I do) and its application to bio-mechanics, or coaching a lot of runners (which I have), or transitioning myself late in life from a heel striker to a forefoot runner (which I have, over a period of 2 years). The answer is actually much easier to understand.

Consider the animals that we are. Remove us from this modern society we’ve built, and in which, by and large, we are no longer fit in an evolutionary sense. Let’s travel to the Land Before Shoes. How did we run then? Not on our heels, that’s for sure!

Test it for yourself. Take your shoes off, and try to run, even if for just a few steps.

You’ll immediately, instinctively, switch to a forefoot striking gait, and that striking will be absorbed in large part by the arches and ankles of your feet, and the tendons and muscles of your legs. Because that’s what they have evolved to do! (Normally, I urge people to do this test on soft grass, but it is possible to heel strike on very soft ground, so be cautious, and do it on a hard but clean surface, for full effect.)

Watch young children run barefoot. You’ll immediately notice that when not taught otherwise, we all run with a forefoot striking gait.

That is the correct way to run.

It’s just that over years of under-use, over-protection, we have not developed the needed sturdiness to run that way as adults.

It takes time, much more than a few weeks, to compensate. And it can be painful. And you risk injury if you try to do too much, too soon. So it should probably only be attempted with the help of a good coach.

Yet the conclusion is inescapable: There is a correct way of running.

It just may not be the way everyone can run in this day and age. For having run too long in conventional shoes, or lacking the patience to rebuild their bodies…

Running, Shoes, Technique, Coaching

In case of doubt, wear shoes, and make a run for it!

Photos by Sacha Veillette.

Notes on the original research paper by Sarah T. Ridge et al.

For those interested, and because I am a scientist first and foremost…

In terms of methodology, the design of the research was sound, as far as it went. However, I have concerns over the following items, some of which may invalidate the conclusions:

  1. While selection of FiveFingers users was random (among each group of men and women, so that’s good), all runners were experienced runners. Which means they were all used to running in conventional shoes, and had not been injured (or said so) in recent past. So far, so good. Except for a bit of psychology of running: Although the runners were given instructions on how to transition, most runners who are used to running a certain distance per week have a tendency to think they know what they are doing. In a word: they feel they can do it, no matter what. The odds of the FiveFingers group actually having followed the transition plan are slim, in my estimation. And my estimation is supported by the reported fact that FiveFingers users peaked their training volume in week 4 of the study, way too early! Simply put: they probably tried to run more with the FiveFingers than they should have, got hurt, then scaled it back down, but it was too late.
  2. Regarding the MRI results, which I’m told were taken with a somewhat low quality machine, the convention of what constitutes remodeling of the bones and injury is arbitrary. And perhaps a bit conservative. Being slightly less conservative, by only one level on the scale used, might change the conclusion. Interesting fact also reported in the article: the results are comparable to having sedentary people start running and doing it for 7 days straight. No one should go from 0 to seven straight days of running, but you would expect major work to begin in the bodies of those who do, and yes, some injuries to result from the abrupt change. Duh!
  3. There were initially 43 participants recruited for the study. They were divided roughly equally between the FiveFingers, and the control. Which means there should have been 21 and 22 participants in each group. 19 completed the study in the FiveFingers group, so a drop of 2 or 3, whereas 17 completed in the control (a drop of 5 or 4, depending on the exact split between the groups). The numbers and specific reasons for the drops were not disclosed on a per-group basis, but we know 3 participants did not show up at the end for the MRI, 2 got injured for “unrelated reasons” during the training, 2 never returned calls (so probably did not even train, or perhaps trained and got hurt right away). Hiding what exactly happened to those participants is one way to bias results. What if there were 5 drops from the control group, and it was all because they got injured, and not at all for “unrelated reasons”? For instance, for reasons related to the conventional shoes, but not in the feet, like knees and hip problems? The picture would look very different, and actually quite comparable between the two groups.
  4. Leaving aside the possibility of manipulation of the results, which I’m pretty sure the authors were not trying to do, it is worth noting what their own conclusion really said: Far from an indictment of running in FiveFingers, they indicated that transition should be done very slowly, and more slowly than prescribed at the time by the folks at Vibram. (Those guidelines, we are told in the paper, had been changed between the start of the work and the publication of the paper, by the way.) I would go even further: taking a bunch of experienced runners, who in my experience are notoriously bad at following coaches’ advice, is a recipe for disaster. When you transition to minimalist shoes, you should take a lot of time, and ideally start as if you were starting to run from scratch. Very few experienced runners are willing to hold themselves back to that extent, and that is why we get hurt. Yes, I count myself in that lot, even though it took me a long time, my adaptation is not complete yet, and I had some major pains bordering on injury.
  5. The only way to get a definitive answer on this question would be to take two groups of newbie runners through a strictly controlled regimen of training. One group in each type of shoes. That would take time, but it would be better science. Of course, if you change the way you run, you will have major adaptation and risk of injury. But let’s see who, of the two groups, would actually get hurt less, and what their feet, legs, knees, and hips would look like at the end of the program. That would be interesting. Anyone has some funding available?

From the Library of No-brainer Fitness

Books, Exercise, Diet, Willpower, Happiness, Paleo

So many books, so little time…

A really short post, for a change. You probably did not think it possible coming from me, yet here it is.

Here are books I’ve recently read, or am currently reading, and that I highly recommend. Perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon…

The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The ancient nutritional formula for peak athletic performance. By Loren Cordain, Ph.D., and Joe Friel, M.S. Not exactly a day-to-day guide to nutrition since I don’t subscribe to everything that is “paleo”, but certainly an inspiration for reducing carbs and eliminating processed foods and NOT FOOD (a work in progress). I particularly like the pragmatic approach to eating paleo when doing endurance sports, which is of course not a strict paleo diet.

The Willpower Instinct: How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it. By Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. This book is structured like the lecture series she gives at Stanford University, and contains exercises to be done week after week, so it takes a while to get through it in order to really benefit from the material. But it is worth the effort. One of the key elements for having more willpower is to be fit (exercise, sleep well, etc.), and of course some willpower is useful to keep us moving everyday. So it is a positive feedback loop.

Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. By John J. Ratey, MD. I just started this, after first encountering him in a FranklinCovey lecture and then listening to his TED talk, so too early to give a review, but very promising.

Eating on the Wild Side: The missing link to optimum health. By Jo Robinson. This is from an investigative journalist in the field of food (agriculture, nutrition, “field”, get it?). What’s really interesting is the discussion about changes some 10,000 years of human selection and hybridization of plants have made to what we put in our digestive systems. Basically, a truly paleo diet is impossible nowadays, because the food that existed then no longer exists. Case closed. A quick read, and quite enlightening, and many interesting tips that can be consumed over time.

The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. By Shawn Achor. A bit of a personal thing, but highlighting how important it is to have a balanced life, to exercise, eat, and sleep well. Let’s face it: it is all inter-related.

All of the above are easy to find in either paper or electronic versions.

Next on my list is to read Dr. David L. Katz’s book on nutrition and health; once I’ve done that, I’ll likely spend much more time talking about it.

Good reading!

Photo from Pixabay.

The Principles Underlying Everything

Not everyone needs a deep philosophy in order to strive for better fitness, and ultimately health, yet this just might help some of you. For me, it is fundamental, and helps guide my actions on a daily basis, and the advice of No-brainer Fitness.

So allow me to state what I consider to be fundamental aspects of being human we must come to grips with in order to be optimally healthy. I call those “Principles” for what follows…

Brains, Animal, Evolution

Our big brain, result of our evolution, cause of our problems and source of the solutions…

First Principle: We are animals. Animals with big brains, to be sure, but animals nevertheless.

Second Principle: Evolution is real. We have been, and continue to be, subject to evolution. That’s how we’ve inherited our animal bodies, and big brains.

Third Principle: We can be masters of our impulses. That’s where the big brains comes into play, in a variety of ways.

Fourth Principle: Sometimes we need help. There’s no shame in that; it’s called being human. Also something our big brains should be useful for.

So let’s have a bit of an explanation, for now, of those Principles (you can be sure that I will come back to these topics in future posts):

First Principle: Our bodies are part of nature, not something outside of it, different from it, or “above” somehow. We have faculties that set us apart somewhat in terms of what we are capable of, but they do not give us any special rights or dominion. If anything, with great power comes a fiduciary mandate to use it well (a.k.a. “great responsibility”).

Take for evidence how our closeness with our pets. This is in large part because we recognize in them aspects of ourselves. Many other species on Earth exhibit aspects of what we call human characteristics. Another piece of evidence: studies show that we recover faster from illness and surgery when afforded a view of nature…

Second Principle: our bodies are what they are because they have been shaped by the blind forces of genetics and nature. This has shaped what our bodies are able to do, what they need to thrive, but also how our minds work. Through hundreds of thousands of years we have become equipped with the means to be the dominant species on the planet, and to do away with much that was limiting in our natural environment.

In our current environment, this leads to two main types of problems: a loss of health due to over-consumption of previously scarce ressources (the modern diet), and widespread (and at times engineered) opportunities to distract ourselves from what would be well adapted behavior (lack of movement). A big brain that comes at least partially programmed to “take it easy” and eat as much as possible of things that are pleasant can be a terrible burden.

Third Principle: Given the first and second principles, it is very tempting to just give up, to admit defeat and say “that’s how things are, so it is not MY fault. BUT: as animals who have evolved to possess quite impressive intelligence, we actually have what it takes to deal with the situation.

A big chunk of it consists in using that intelligence, and an understanding of what drives us and what we need, to effectively fight the instincts and impulses that tend to cause us to not move enough and eat too much of the wrong things. It is possible; many of us are already doing it. We are all capable of doing it.

Fourth Principle: But let’s be fair: it is not easy. I’ll be the first to admit it (you can be second): sometimes I need help to get me up and moving, or to resist that brownie for dessert (or instead of a proper breakfast, for that matter).  There is no shame in being helped, and it is only right to be the help at times as well.

That help can take many forms, including laws to reduce certain negative influences or promote positive ones. But that is often counter-productive because of the fight against powerful, established interests, and, more importantly, the natural tendency of all of us to resist change that is imposed on us.

Acting one on one to change our habits and help each other is an essential, albeit longer-term, part of the battle. Vote with your forks, shoes, and wallets, everyday, and we will all be the change we need…

We have the brains, let’s make the most of them!

Brains

Let’s use ’em!

Photos from Pixabay.

What is “fitness”? (Part 1)

That’s perhaps not a question you’ve asked yourself, but like so many things we take for granted, it is worth taking a step back and thinking about.

That’s why my first post is dedicated to this simple question. As will be the second, because there’s too much to explore for a single post.

First this first part, a bit of travel back in time is on the menu.

In the somewhat strict biological sense, fitness is the ability to exist, survive, and reproduce, in a given ecological niche. (I’m paraphrasing, of course, since I’m not a biologist.) In essence, the individual “fits” with the conditions and environment that prevail at that time. So:

Fitness = Adapted to one’s environment

More often than not, biological fitness is measured by the transfer of genes from one generation to the next. This “success” at reproduction is what leads to the notion of survival of the fittest. It does not mean the individual has beaten up all competitors (that may happen as well, but not as often as popularly believed); it is a simple indication that the individual has given rise to a sizable portion of the next generation. Thus:

Fitness = Reproductive Success

We’ve come some way from our origins as struggling animals. We’ve distanced ourselves from the hardships of the environment through clothes, fire, housing, agriculture, machines of all kinds, etc. Some might argue we’ve completely detached ourselves from the grips of evolution. They’d be wrong, of course; we’ve only changed our environment, modified it much faster than we’ve modified ourselves through natural (or otherwise) selection.

In that respect, our reproductive success is amazing, but our bodies may no longer fit the environments in which they now live. This leads to lots of health problems. Those among us who are overweight are only the most visible aspect, a symptom really, of this. (Careful: overweight does not necessarily mean unfit. The correlation with many health issues, however, is undeniable.)

I would go as far as to say that our current way of life makes us all unfit to a great extent. We have facilitated our lives to the point of taking cars everywhere instead of walking, taking escalators and elevators instead of stairs (yes, I’m aware there were no stairs in the African Savannah, but bear with me), eating our fill pretty much every single day (for a large portion of the population, pun intended), etc.

Our bodies are not prepared for that, and it will take time for evolution to compensate. But I don’t think we should let evolution take its course in this case. It would simply take too long, and too many would suffer needlessly in the process.

That’s why those definitions are not entirely satisfactory anymore. The first one still has value, as we’ll see later, but it demands that we consider a bit more what our environment has become.

As to the second definition, I think we should reject it altogether. We have developed technologies that compensate for nature in guaranteeing reproductive success. At any rate, overpopulation and the footprint of humanity on our only planet are already problems that demand a lot of attention. Let’s not focus on adding more of us as a measure of success.

So we must look elsewhere for a current, useful, definition of fitness.

That’s what I’ll continue doing in the second post on this topic.