Exercised by Daniel Lieberman [8/10]

As a chump, non-athletic exerciser, who has nonetheless jogged for a half century, I am in the market for books on the subject. I can safely say that “Exercised: The Science of Physical Activity, Rest and Health” is the freshest and most useful book I’ve ever come across on this vexatious issue. The book’s distinguishing trait is that its author, Daniel Lieberman, is an evolutionary biologist. His analysis of any fitness/health issue considers not only the usual experimental and medical data but also how our evolutionary forebears behaved (which can be gleaned, partly, from the small remaining populations of true hunter-gatherers). Using this professional lens, the author scythes down myth after myth. We’re told to relax and exercise less as we age; nonsense, indeed the reverse is crystal clear. One topic close to my heart (and my dodgy left knee) is exercise’s possibly deleterious effect on people; the situation is complex but with the exception of extreme levels of activity, we can safely obsess. You can lose weight by walking, it just takes longer than dieting; moreover exercising is a marvelous complement to dieting. Cavemen are not our role model. “Just do it” won’t cut it; motivation to exercise is complex and varied. And so on and so on. He is especially harsh, and rightfully so, on fads and commercialized catechisms. The book is superbly organized and referenced, yet Lieberman’s style is elegant and laced with graceful humor. I’m not sure Exercised will make much sense to someone first broaching regular physical activity, but as long as you get out reasonably regularly and have thought a bit about it, this is an entertaining marvel of a book.

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