“Wild Fitness” Expert Explains Why Gyms Don’t Work

September 19, 2016 at 3:07 am

Hunter-gatherers weren’t trying to get fit, they were just living and having fun


Nearly 70 percent of people paying for gym memberships never go to the gym. 80 percent who join the gym as a New Year’s Resolution quit within five months.

Wildfitness” Founder Tara Wood says this is because our bodies and minds were not designed for gyms, and no matter how much we try to beat them into submission, eventually they refuse to cooperate.

Wood runs a re-wilding retreat that teaches people to approach fitness like the wild animals we once were, rather than like hamsters on a treadmill.

In the wild, she says, physical fitness – along with mental and emotional health – is a bi-product of a natural, enjoyable, relaxed lifestyle.

Similar to “the caveman’s cure for depression,” Wood says we must look to our hunter-gatherer ancestors for the secret to physical fitness also:

“In their natural habitat, all of a wild animal’s senses are alive to anything that moves or smells around it,” Wood says in a Ted Talk. “This heightened alertness to their environment and purpose is something that’s very dulled in captive animals.”

Civilized humans suffer physically, mentally and emotionally because they are cut off from their natural food source, habitat, and ability to express their natural behavior.

Wood’s typical client spends most of their days indoors “bathed in the cool glow of a screen,” with very limited movement and highly processed food. They have little motivation to go on living, let alone exercise.

“Drop them into wilderness, get them to eat fresh, real food, get them to be physically active outdoors and tell them the rest of the time all they need to do is completely chill out – and within days an incredible awakening and blossoming occurs,” Wood says.


During the course of her one-week program, Wood has seen chronic skin and digestive disorders clear up, diabetics stop needing insulin, and people in their 60’s, who haven’t run for 20 years, start running again. She’s seen depression — that the most potent pharmaceuticals and insightful psychologists couldn’t touch — lifted.

“There are no secrets here,” Wood said. “There’s nothing to patent. It’s simply a matter of putting the animal back in its natural environment.”

Nature knows best


Wood is a biologist, but she thinks scientists often get it wrong when it comes to determining what’s best for human health.

She cited cushioned running shoes as a primary example:

Science tells us we need this cushioning to absorb the forces associated with running … But we’ve had millions of years of bipedal evolution. Why should we suddenly need shoes now?

We’ve learned cushioned shoes have been a terrible mistake, millions of injuries and millions of shoes later.”

We also don’t need science to tell us that exposing our skin to sunlight enhances our mood or that the sound of wind in the leaves is deeply calming to our minds, she said.

Three tips for city dwellers who want to drink from the “elixir of wildness:”

1. Food

“Food is simple – eat fresh, real, local food – food that’s come as directly as possible from the earth, sky or water,” Wood said.

2. Movement

Wood recommends we imitate movements we would have done in our evolutionary origins, like climbing, balancing, jumping, playing, fighting, dancing, barefoot running and swimming.

3. Nature 

“Get outside whenever you can – eat outside, go from A to B outside, train outside, meet friends outside, spend your weekends outside, when you find a restaurant find a table where there’s nothing between your head and the stars.”

Mental motivators for movement:


Wood says much more than half the battle for physical fitness is in our heads.

1. Joy

Wood says we are hard-wired for enjoyment. “Joy is an ancient symptom of doing something that has evolutionary benefit.”

Choose physical activities that are enjoyable and liberating. If they aren’t, don’t do them, Wood says.

“No wild animal would freely do something that causes it to suffer … Suffering kills our motivation and curbs our performance,” she says.

Don’t yourself to exercise when you’re tired and only do things when you’re in the mood.

2. Purpose

The biggest dampener on someone’s sense of purpose is motivating them from a fearful or contrived place – “like telling someone they have to lose weight or lower their blood pressure.”

There are far more interesting reasons to move like martial arts, dancing, cross-country running and team sports.

3. Survival

alex-honnold-climbingEnvironmental challenges make us stronger and more adaptable. Therefore, exposing ourselves to sub-optimal conditions (running in the snow, for example) might do us some good, Wood says.

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