Shake it like our ancestors
In 1994, the physical fitness test for college admissions was abolished, and in the following year, the fitness test was excluded from high school admissions as well. The motivation was to reduce the burden on students. Personally, I believe this was a serious policy mistake. According to the national physical fitness survey in 2009, the physical strength of Koreans in their 20s has fallen considerably behind their peers in China and Japan. The grip strength of people in their early 20s was weaker than older Koreans in their 40s.
Let’s think about the hygiene paradox. I am not talking about the old days when people got roundworms and pinworms that pose serious health risks. But the Vietnamese farmers and the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest who got infected with intestinal worms do not show the allergic reaction from which the Western people suffer. The human body remains the same as the prehistoric people living 20,000 years ago, but the environment and diet have changed drastically, causing various adverse side effects. A mature human body has more than 10 trillion germs in over 1,000 different varieties that add up to 1.3 kilograms (2.8 pounds). If you try to be too clean, the balance may get tipped over.
The biggest health problem is the general decline in physical strength as a result of a lack of physical exercise. “During our history as fish we were active predators in ancient oceans and streams. During our more recent past as amphibians, reptiles and mammals, we were active creatures preying on everything from reptiles to insects. Even more recently, as primates, we were active tree-living animals, feeding on fruits and leaves. Early humans were active hunter-gatherers and, ultimately, pastoralists. Did you notice a theme here? That common thread is the word ‘active.’?” (Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body.”)
Compared to prehistoric humans, modern man is stationary. We raise our children to get used to comfort. Parents complain that the backpacks are too heavy for elementary school kids. It has become a common belief that the backpack must not weigh more than 10 percent of body weight. Our bodies are not yet adjusted to automobiles and airplanes. We are more suitable for walking and running the vast fields like the cavemen living 20,000 years ago. We need to move our bodies more just as our ancestors did. I hit the gym and work out every morning. But after breaking sweat on the treadmill, I have to take the elevator to my apartment on the 17th floor.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun