TMCnet Feature
June 21, 2021

Has Technology Improved Our Fitness or Made Us Lazier?

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. Technology that would have been unthinkable for any gym goer in the early 90s has now not only become realised, but in many cases, it has already fallen out of fashion! But has technology made us lazier?

The Case For Technology Improving Fitness

With ever increasing numbers of obesity and diabetes, it may feel like the number of people who exercise has steadily dropped over the years. But when it comes to exercising as a leisure activity (going to the gym, running, playing tennis) the numbers have actually increased. There are many reasons for this, more free time, more money, and yes, better technology.

In the 19th century, nobody went to the gym. Well, there were some people who did attend gymnasiums, but it was not common. People moved more because they had more physical jobs but heading to the gym to climb on a treadmill and run for 40 minutes was unheard of.

Training methods have massively improved over the last 30 years, as has the fitness industry. We have seen huge improvements in technology that allows humans to train at higher intensities than ever before. Olympic athletes can train in hypoxic chambers to recreate altitude.

The longest standing world record in athletics is just 34 years old. Almost every other record has been broken and reset within the last 10 years. Our ability to be fitter, stronger, and healthier has been made easier through science and technology.

Sure, there are more obese people than ever before, but that is not the fault of technology. It is down to a variety of factors:

  • Higher wealth (less chance of food shortages)
  • Increased availability of high-calorie foods
  • More sedentary jobs and lifestyles
  • Worse sleep
  • Stress, depression, and anxiety

You should also look at the definition of laziness. Many people who are obese are not lazy, they may work incredibly hard. But that work probably doesn’t involve digging coal or ploughing a field. It’s more likely to involve spreadsheets, meetings, phone calls, and problem solving.

Calling someone lazy because they are unfit due to work, would be like calling someone intellectually lazy because their work is straightforward and doesn’t involve problem solving. It misses the point entirely.

Sure, technology is in some ways responsible for our more sedentary lives, but it also offers a solution. Want to go running but it’s raining? You can use a treadmill (which itself has evolved dramatically throughout history).

Want to get stronger? Check out this leg press. Want to improve your fitness? You can download an app that teaches you how to run a 5km race in a good time.

The Case for Technology Making Us Lazier

How are you reading this article right now? Did you walk for 2 miles to the local library? Of course not, you are either sitting at a desk, lying in bed, or (let’s be honest) sitting on the toilet. Technology has transformed our lives, and the ways in which it has done so are too numerous to count.

Cooking a meal used to be something that would take several hours each day, now you can get a pizza delivered to your door in 20 minutes with just a couple of swipes on your Smartphone.

Are you going to walk for an hour to reach the pub or are you going to hop into an Uber?

Technology has made life more enjoyable, easier, and it has saved us so much time. At no point in history has it been as easy to sit on your couch and relax for 4 hours after work as it is now.

Fitness technology has improved massively, because this is the first time in history where the majority of people (in the Western world at least) have to consciously burn calories. Our lifestyles don’t require effort in the same way as it did even 30 years ago.

For most of history, the majority of the population has worked in agriculture. Which is one of the most physically demanding jobs. However, this is no longer the case. The largest industry in modern Britain is now the service industry.

But even farming jobs are less physically demanding than they were for most of time. The hours are still long, but technology has made it possible to farm all day and still be mostly sedentary.

Final Thoughts

Our lives have been shaped by the incredible technological changes over the last century or so. It has never been easier to gain weight and to live a life with poor health and fitness. But technology is also at the centre of most of our fitness improvements.

The top 1% of humanity (in terms of fitness) are stronger, faster, healthier, and have better endurance than the top 1% of humanity has at any time in history. There may have been a naturally faster sprinter than Usain Bolt in 1,000BC, but without the technological advances that we take for granted, they would not have been able to compete.

Pheidippides, the first man to complete the marathon in 490 BC, died of exhaustion. Today, thousands of people complete marathons dressed in fancy dress.

A common belief is that if you took a random person from any point in history and compared them to modern people, we would look unhealthy and overweight in comparison.

The reality is less black and white. Throughout history, mankind has had lower life expectancies, more deformities through work, and less muscle mass (except for certain professions). We have a higher percentage of overweight and obese people, but a non-obese person would be seen as much healthier than someone from before the 20th century.

If a person is lazy or not lazy, then there are many reasons for this. Technology has certainly shaped their lives, but ultimately, the person themselves and the circumstances of their upbringing are responsible for their fitness or laziness.

It’s harder to avoid laziness these days, as there is so much convenience. It’s harder to avoid weight gain due to better food supply and less exhausting jobs. Yet for the first time in history a substantial percentage of the population literally pay money to go and exercise in gyms. Maybe humanity should give ourselves a break here? We’re doing our best.

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