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Have we evolved to save energy? | Sanibel Sea School Blog

Have we evolved to save energy?

Biking on Captiva. Photo by Helen Steussy.

Riding a bike in Sanibel and Captiva is pretty easy. It is easy for a couple of reasons: There are 25 miles of paved bike paths, and the islands are flat. All during the daylight hours, you see people happily pedaling along to the beach, to get ice cream, or to whatever the day has in store for them.

I ride a bike to work a couple of times a week. It’s not an excessive distance, only about two miles each way, but one afternoon on my way home with the wind against me, I felt incredibly out of shape. I thought to myself, “I should have just saved my energy and ridden the trolley.”

For the rest of my slow ride home, I pondered this concept. Isn’t it ironic that I was going to conserve my personal energy while partaking in something that was robbing energy from another source?

As a society, and as a species, we have evolved to minimize the amount of energy our bodies use. The process of evolution selects for traits that help an individual better survive, and therefore pass along those genes. Energy efficiency is vital to survival. For example, if an animal doesn’t have to expend as much energy breaking down its food because its larger teeth do the job more efficiently than its contemporaries’ smaller teeth, that animal may have more energy to spend on evading predators (or some other survival activity.) On the other hand, let’s say an animal develops a tool that helps break down food before it even enters the mouth, requiring even less energy. Now those smaller teeth are less energetically expensive than the larger ones, and therefore more favorable.

As a modern society, we have used technology to reduce the amount of energy we spend on everyday activities from brushing our teeth to traveling to work. However, the mechanisms that do that work doesn’t magically appear out of thin air. That energy is being harvested from somewhere else, whether its from coal mined from mountaintops, oil pulled from the depths of the earth, or nuclear reactions.

We may have gone too far in relieving our bodies of the burden of work. Not only are the practices of utilizing certain forms of energy polluting our planet and the methods of obtaining them unsafe to workers and surrounding communities, but its presence in our everyday lives is taking a toll on our health as well. Recent studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle leads to a greater risk of heart disease — the leading cause of death in Americans. Scientists are finding that even those that exercise regularly, but spend most of their time sitting (at a desk, in a car, in front of a TV, etc.) are at a higher risk for heart disease than those that are on their feet for most of the day. Check out this study conducted by researchers at University of South Carolina comparing the amount of time adult men spent watching TV and riding in a car with heart disease related deaths.

So, while we move to develop cleaner energy sources as a society, don’t forget about the energy you harbor in your own body. I will fight off my innate laziness, and ride my bike more often, and I encourage you to find ways that you can burn more of your body’s energy as well. If you are feeling really ambitious, try forgoing the riding lawnmower this summer, and instead give the reel push mower a try.

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