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Fitness - the world at your feet

Oh, the Joy of the dawn chorus...

Oh the joy of the dawn chorus as we wake to greet a new day and the prospect of the treadmill or the spin machine. For those of us trying to fight off the ‘chicken wings’ or the ‘man boobs’ the battle between the rational mind and the art of self delusion is a continual war of attrition. We neatly split into four camps, the early bird ‘lets get this done before the real day begins’, the evening shift ‘sod it I must get this over before I go home to the glass of wine’, the addict ‘I go every day and really feel it if I don’t get at least three hours and a sauna in’ and the derelict ‘must go sometime this month but if I squint and don’t breath out I don’t look too bad in this’. I belong to group one. My theory is that most of the other suckers are in the alternative groups so the best chance of getting through this without having to communicate or interact with the human race will be to get in there early and get it all over with.                             

For us Joe Averages there is no spiritual element to exercise. Our rational brain recognises that our four million year evolution didn’t genetically engineer us to live on burgers and spend the biggest part of the day lying down. Long foraging walks, regular food preparation without the aid of a blender or microwave and the occasional foot chase to capture a meat ration were our lot. Our bodies know this even if our brains are in denial. Our revered and ancient ancestors did not know the joys of the ipad and ordering the mammoth takeaway over the internet. They also had a  much bigger problem with embarrassing body hair and resident insects than most of us. This did provide them with many happy hours of competition, flicking crackling fleas into the log fire and keeping score. As a useful historical fact it was through this that ball games first developed. The tribes split into those who preferred the flea chase to the capture (footballers in early evolution) and would often roll around the ground crying loudly and pretending to clutch a flea when they had actually let it slip away; those who weren’t prepared to give up the flea to the flames or the other members of the tribe easily and enjoyed wrestling for it (eventually substituting a leather object for the flea and becoming rugby players); and those who having caught the flea were happy to release it on an open piece of ground and chase it around a lot (hockey and golfers to be).

So to the facts. We need to do something to keep our flea capture and disposal skills in good order and thus without the excessive body hair through millennia of evolution, the dextorous use of razors and the arrival of male pattern baldness we need to find another way to enlightenment. In less prosperous days for many of the masses (most of us) enslavement in the service of a rich elite, much like our relationship nowadays with bankers, meant we could spend each day happily labouring until the setting of the sun. At the end of the day we stumbled back to our nests in the craftily named ‘artisans cottages’, actually hovels the design of which spawned the factory farm cages now used for chickens, clutching a couple of groats which could only be spent in the Company store. We would be so exhausted that only bed, procreation on a Friday night and numbing the experience with alcohol served to make this easier. But the big plus. Until we died from fatigue, the effects of alcohol, the toxic impact of coal dust or factory chemicals as we entered the industrial revolution or were hung by the ruling classes to keep us in our place, our bodies did get a reasonable daily workout.

Education and growing personal income brought a healthy fear by the slavemasters that we could get out of hand. By this time they too had evolved. Along with a new form of more subtle bondage  (financial slavery through land ownership and lifetime mortgages) came more sedentary lifestyles for most. We were blessed with machines to do some of the hard work. We weighed more and played less. Getting our bodies to adapt proved more tricky. You cannot change millions of years of physical evolution in a couple of hundred. Men, and sometimes women had for many years worked off their surplus energy by killing each other over land ownership. This suited the elite as they often avoided dying but usually ended up with the land. Initially the serfs were placated by the subtle trick of convincing them that they were heroic in their sacrifice but this began to wear thin. Competitive games arrived. They still involved dying sometimes (the Romans and gladiators for example) but team and individual games grew more important. More evolution and the time to participate in games shrunk as electronic media took a greater and greater part of our lives. Come the day come the inventor. The individual games warehouse, later known as the gym, sprang to life. The elite then distributed pictures of perfectly honed human bodies with the message that if you paid large monthly sums to them you could aspire to this. For many of us we missed the connection that just paying didn’t deliver the body, we had to attend the gym at least a few times. This made the elite happy as they could collect money each month from a thousand people for a gym with a capacity for only a hundred. Imagine the chaos if all the members of gym clubs decided to turn up every week for four nights. The riots and the refunds would be a joy to witness.

Jeff Cant  

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