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Are we inactive out of choice?

I recently came across an article which stated many of us don't need to be active unless we choose to be, which got me thinking. After initially asking, 'What do you do?' many people comment, 'Okay, so you walk, isn't this what we can do anyway?'

Continuous one Line Art: Human Evolution to a mobile phone user

Now, we don't just walk; we walk & talk, and as we discussed in our post, Walk & Talk (and listen), the listening bit is just as important. Also, before continuing, it's important to note that not everyone can lead an active lifestyle by choice; factors like injuries, diseases, and health conditions can limit physical capabilities.

Back to the idea that walking is what we do, this is only sometimes true. Even with our knowledge that activity is good for our health, we are becoming less active. As a society, we invest our resources in developing lifestyles which encourage inactivity.

Today we are 20% less active than we were in the 1960s with 25% of men and 20% of women doing less than 30 minutes activity a week (this is moderate activity not exercise). Furthermore this transition towards a sedentary lifestyle is speeding up, by 2030 it is estimated we will be 35% less active than we were in the 1960s.(1)

During the 1940s, an influential study by Jeremy Morris observed 35,000 London bus drivers and conductors. It found that drivers were twice as likely to suffer from a heart attack than their conductor colleagues. These conductors were not athletes, they were not going to gyms, they were as likely to smoke and drink alcohol, and they had the same 1940s diet as their driver colleagues. The only difference is they had a more active job. The link between physical activity and health was established and has been supported by research ever since. In fact, over the past 10 years alone, nearly a third of a million academic papers have been written on the subject.

For the vast majority of our time on this planet, physical activity has been a necessity for our survival. Despite our relatively slight build, we have migrated to every corner of the earth, mastered all environments and survived in a world where just about every other predator is either larger or vastly more powerful than we are. We evolved to be bipedal walking, the only primate to do so. To survive, we had to walk or run for our food. But, food was only sometimes available and only sometimes enough to replace the energy used to get it. In short, we evolved to be lightweight, agile and highly effective animals that also needed to be efficient and able to store energy for when times were lean. We are genetically programmed to both be active and prioritise rest whenever possible. (2)

However, modern conveniences have significantly altered our need to be active. The automation of industry, the widespread use of motorised transportation for short distances, the convenience of online shopping, the transformation of social interactions through digital means and, more recently, the move to work from home have all contributed to a more sedentary lifestyle. We have inadvertently enabled our genetic predisposition to rest and store energy to become our dominant motivation!

Once defined by our agility and ability to thrive in challenging environments, our species now increasingly inhabits a world where we can indefinitely remain within the confines of our modern 'caves.' Moving outside our 'cave' is becoming no longer necessary, and it has become a choice we are increasingly selective about and resistant to.

Family with laptop, tablet and smartphone at home, everyone using digital devices

This raises the question, 'What role, if any, does being active have in our lives?'

The usual response to the question of why physical activity is important is that it offers a range of health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, dementia and more. Physical activity can also help to improve cognitive functions, increase fertility, and more. It is often believed that people are not aware of these benefits, and educating them about the advantages of being active will encourage them to participate. However, the significance of physical activity for our health has been scientifically proven since the 1940s, and this knowledge has been around for much longer. If simply knowing these benefits is enough, we would have already seen results.

Despite the well-documented health benefits of physical activity, there seems to be a disconnect between awareness and action. Society often focuses more on developing medical treatments for the consequences of inactivity rather than protecting activity as necessary to our wellbeing and not something to be designed out.

This century as seen the ascendance of the internet with leisure time increasingly dominated by our virtual existence; our physical lives being relegated to secondary status. According to the latest data, our obsession with electronic devices shows no sign of slowing down. Since 2013, average screen time has increased by almost an hour. On average, we spend almost 7 hours per day looking at screens; for younger people in Generation Z, this figure rises to 9 hours per day.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to experience the contentment and satiated feeling of inactivity. To address this issue, we need to reframe our approach to physical activity, not as a demanding task but as an integral, enjoyable part of daily life. This doesn't imply that we need to become athletes, marathon runners or take up extreme sports. For it is everyday incidental activity, just moving, which is rapidly disappearing from our lives. Walking is one of the simplest and most effective forms of physical activity. It is easily accessible, can be done in a group, and connects us with our surroundings in a way that no digital experience can match.

Funny overweight man being sweaty after intensive cardio, raises clenched fists, dressed in sportswear.

Embracing physical activity goes beyond health benefits; it's about reconnecting with our natural inclinations towards movement and the outdoors. The challenge lies not in recognising the advantages of being active but in making it a priority in a world filled with enticing passive entertainment options.

Our bodies and minds thrive when they are active but just telling ourselves this is not enough, we need to experience it. We need to reposition activity as not something we design out of our lives but consider movement a celebration of our abilities and an essential part of a fulfilling life, not a chore or obligation. By being active, we improve our physical health, enhance our mental well-being, nurture our relationships, and enrich our lives in countless ways. Let's step outside our modern "caves," not because we must, but because we understand the joy and countless benefits of simply moving through the world.

Space to Talk logo

Space to Talk is a not-for-profit community-centred organisation that aims to provide support to members of the community . Our walks focus on the Talk aspect. Our walks are for those who, for whatever reason, find it difficult to meet up with others. We provide a safe space for people who otherwise may be nervous or anxious about meeting others.

Outdoor scene with open countryside and big skies

Our outdoor programme focuses on inclusivity, catering to both cautious enthusiasts and beginners. We provide options that range from easy and approachable to more challenging adventures; we create an environment where everyone can discover the joys of the outdoors at a pace that feels right for them.


(1) estimated inactivity refers to Public Health England figures published 2016

(2) 'The Story of the Human Body' by Daniel Lieberman


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