HUMANS 101

What 24 Days of ‘Primitive’ Living Taught Me

Modern life is way too easy, and that’s a huge health problem

Robert Roy Britt
Published in
7 min readJul 25, 2022

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In the old days — like 1940 — just getting by could be good exercise. Credit: Library of Congress

BRIDGER-TETON NATIONAL FOREST, WYOMING — Ample firewood is strewn across the wide, dry flood plain of Pacific Creek, just outside Grand Teton National Park. Three trips in different directions, returning each time with a bundle of dried-out former branches and beaver-hewn tree trunks, yields enough for tonight’s fire.

I’m not gonna lie: It was a bit of a workout, with all the bending, lifting and carrying. Not exercise, mind you, but part of a day’s “work” out here among towering conifers, miles from any store that might sell packaged firewood.

At least I didn’t have to chop it myself.

My wife and I and our dogs are near the end of a 24-day journey through Western states, seeking out remote campsites along rugged and sometimes barely navigable backroads where — horrors! — we often have no cell service. We’re roughing it, as they say, with our magically unfolding origami chairs and aluminum tables, propane-powered stoves, and onboard fridges electrified by solar panels connected to shoebox-size lithium batteries.

At the risk of sounding awfully privileged (as I type this into my 11-inch iPad Pro with detachable keyboard) the trip offers an itty bitty glimpse into life at a time when surviving was its own workout, no exercise required.

Pacific Creek in Wyoming during a rather soothing moment. Photo by the author

In a century-long blink of human history, modern inventions have made the act of getting by immeasurably easier for the vast majority of humans, particularly Westerners. By one estimate, the average American gets 27 minutes less moderate to vigorous physical activity these days compared to two centuries ago, even counting all the people who jog, hit the gym or otherwise engage in the arguably screwy notion of exercise to counteract the lack of physical effort required by modern life.

And that’s a huge problem.

After accounting for all the things a typical U.S. adult have to do in a day — including shopping, typical household chores…

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Robert Roy Britt
Human Parts

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB