A recent study published in Science Advances analyzed loading patterns in the upper arm bones of women throughout history.* Interestingly, women living during the Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age had upper limb bones that were comparable to semi-elite rowers, suggesting women regularly participated in rigorous manual labor that far exceeds what women do today.
The Neolithic Age is also known as the New Stone Age. During this time, tools were used that eventually gave way to farming, and animals were domesticated for food. It enabled people to settle in one area, rather than live nomadically. One can only imagine the jobs that needed to be done during this for success were low to moderate intensity, involving similar movements done a variety of ways. Women were likely lifting, reaching, pulling, and pushing using both sides of their bodies to build, farm, and create a sustainable environment.
At a workshop I took recently, the speaker said we as humans don’t do enough low level activity. We “exercise,” which means we get our heart rate up as high as possible and maximize caloric or strength output, and then we sit. We don’t build fences, pick berries, or walk. We have adopted an all or nothing attitude, with nothing in between.
But what if we were designed to move mostly at low to moderate intensities, throwing in high intensity work once in a while? And what if we adopted this attitude a little bit more? Would we feel better, have more range of motion and strong bones?
It’s not always about how fast, how strong, how much. Our general health and well-being would thrive on moving at lower levels in a variety of ways, daily. Maybe if we change our mindset around what fitness actually is, more people would feel less intimidated and encouraged to move just a little bit more, every day.