63.5 Hours Of Game Of Thrones Takes 1 Day Off Your Life

Unlike our ape cousins, humans require high levels of physical activity to be healthy.


As a young Ph.D. student studying human and ape evolution, I was in Kibale National Park to measure how much chimpanzees climb each day. as I settled into the rhythm of fieldwork, following chimpanzees from dawn to dusk, I came to a very different conclusion: chimpanzees are lazy. Only recently have I come to appreciate what ape idleness tells us about human evolution. People are drawn to apes because we see so much of ourselves in them. It is not just that we share more than 97 percent of our DNA with orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. Apes are clever, use tools, fight and make up, and sneak off to have sex. Some will kill their neighbors over turf and hunt other species for food. Living apes provide the best chance to see where we came from and to understand how much of us is ancient and unchanged. And yet it is the differences, rather than the similarities, between humans and apes that are casting new light on the way our bodies work. For decades researchers have known that this last chapter of our evolution was marked by major anatomical and ecological changes—among them, ballooning brain size, hunting and scavenging, increasingly complex stone tools and larger body size. But they have generally assumed that these were changes in shape and behavior, not in the fundamental function of our cells. Current advances are overturning that view, showing how humans have changed physiologically as well. Unlike our ape cousins, we have evolved a dependency on physical activity. We must move to survive. A typical day’s agenda for a chimpanzee in the wild reads like the daily schedule for lethargic retirees on a Caribbean cruise, though with fewer organized activities. Great apes spend eight to 10 hours a day resting, grooming and eating before knocking off in the evening for nine or 10 hours of sleep per night. Chimpanzees climb about 100 meters a day, the caloric equivalent of another 1.5 kilometers of walking. Orangutans do about the same, and although their ascent has yet to be measured, gorillas surely climb less. In humans, these activity levels would be a recipe for serious health problems. Our taking fewer than 10,000 daily steps is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Converting their walking and climbing to steps per day for comparison across species, we see that great apes rarely accumulate even the modest step counts seen among sedentary humans and never approach the human benchmark of 10,000 steps a day. In humans, sitting at a desk or in front of the television for protracted periods is associated with increased risk of disease and a shorter life span, even among people who exercise. A study in Australian adults reported that every hour accumulated watching television shortened life expectancy by 22 minutes. I will save you the math: bingeing all 63½ hours of Game of Thrones in its entirety will cost you one day on this planet.

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