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History was awful!

At times, people like to reminisce about the past and how lovely and glorious it all was. Here’s the kicker, and as Hans Rosling showed you, it wasn’t.

Human history was rough, rambunctious, and ruthless. If you think that our ancestors were happily skipping around fields picking up berries and swimming in the river all day, you’re slightly wrong. They did that for only 5 hours a day. The other time was spent avoiding predators, walking for miles and miles for food and water, and trying to stay alive.

People often say that our ancestors didn’t have heart disease. That’s true - they didn’t eat much meat and there weren’t many McDonald’s restaurants to visit. They didn’t have cancer. Well, that’s true in a way. They didn’t expose themselves to a lot of carcinogens like air pollution, chemicals, and bacon (sorry everyone - some scientists say meat is a carcinogen).

However, it’s not all so lovely. Most people died long before they could ever develop heart disease or cancer. Even two hundred years ago, you stood a pretty great chance of dying before 40 years old and it’s no surprise. Doctors didn’t start washing their hands until the 1850s. In medieval England, if you were unlucky enough to have your skull cracked in battle, monks would splash you with holy water and pray that God would fix your broken bones. Usually, it didn’t work.

So, in a world full of things trying to send you to an early grave, humans evolved to try to avoid dying. Our eyes can see colours to distinguish tasty berries and completely poisonous berries. We know a zebra is black and white, so we don’t try to ride them (they’re awful). Our hands are as right as rain to grab things, make things, and trap things. Our feet are naturally designed to walk for miles and miles (without shoes), and our teeth are designed to gnash and mash all manners of different vegetables and food sources.

With all of this evolution in every single cell of our bodies, we have a lot of capabilities that we don’t really need to use anymore. We can jump, run, and fight at amazingly high levels, but we don’t really do any of that in our normal lives. Think about this, when was the last time you ran as fast you could or had to jump to get something in a life or death situation? Did you ever have to fight off other kids at school to pick some blueberries from a bush? Probably not, right? Yet, your body is designed for that and we don’t use it. That, very possibly, is where sports come in. Once, when I was young, I asked my grandfather why he always groaned when he sat down (“ahhhhhh…”), had a drink, or put his feet in water. I noticed that lots and lots of men do it, too. Years later, I realised what was causing all of these loud, groaning men. Their brains and bodies still thought they were hunter-gatherers. They could do nothing all day and then groan when they sat down as if they had hunted down 55 wild boar, gathered 200 kilograms of broccoli, and fought off a hyena and an angry panda bear.

Inside of humans, there is an urge to recreate all of those emotions and feel like we’ve done our hunter-gatherer tasks for the day. Look at how we celebrate in sports and how a chimpanzee celebrates nabbing a particularly delicious nut! The human body and brain uses sports and exercise to utilise some of those evolutionary advantages that we gained over thousands of years.

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