You don’t tend to think of animals as being the most exercise-conscious things. Sure, predators spend a lot of time chasing things and prey spends a lot of time running away. That all serves a purpose. They aren’t doing it for fun or to shed that last couple of pounds. They’re doing it to eat or not get eaten.
But, maybe we’re wrong. A gazelle would benefit from a few hours on the treadmill to help it build better cardio, that’s for sure. You’re not going to find any equipment on the plains of the Serengeti but you get the point. Maybe animals do exercise so they can build the strength in their bodies needed to do whatever they need to do to survive.
There’s certainly some evidence to suggest that animals would happily use a gym if they had one.
The Curious Case of the Hamster Wheel
That brings us to the hamster wheel. You’ve seen them in pretty much every hamster cage ever sold. They are little wheels that the critters will hop on and start running for dear life. It’s the strangest thing. Why do they do that if not for exercise?
Sure, you can throw the temptation of food in the mix. Even so, most hamsters have access to their food without having to complete a thousand rotations of a wheel beforehand.
It gets even more interesting when you look at some of the experiments people have carried out. Take Live Science for example. Those guys put a hamster wheel out in the wild next to some food. Soon enough, a bunch of different animals jumped on the thing and started going for it. A snail even got involved at one point, though sadly it didn’t manage a single rotation.
The food was right there too, so it’s not like they had to run to get at it. Maybe it was just curiosity on the part of the animals. Or, perhaps they actually enjoyed the exercise. Maybe the little frog at the end just needed to shed a few pounds.
Do Barnacle Geese Do High-Intensity Training?
[Barnacle Geese are hardcore]
Let’s switch things around a bit and look at Barnacle Geese. That’s what Dr. Lewis Halsey, who works at Roehampton University in the UK, did.
Barnacle Geese undergo a massive migration every year. They’ll fly 2,500 kilometers to get from Svalbard, Norway to Scotland. That’s a pretty huge undertaking no matter how you slice it.
What’s really curious is what they do in the weeks leading up to the big flight. Researchers have noted that they conserve their energy and only fly in short bursts each day. Some have speculated that mirrors the concept of high-intensity training (HIT). A quick burst here helps boost cardio for later.
Halsey has a different view, though. He thinks that the geese just get fit naturally because their bodies know what’s coming. They just get fit automatically without even having to think about it. Starting to feel jealous yet?
So, while it’s nice to think that a random goose might get caught in the middle of a quick workout, it looks like Mother Nature has taken care of the whole fitness thing for it.
Step in the Ring
So, what about breeding? It’s the big question on everybody’s mind, right? Let’s face it, we all exercise to look better. Maybe we don’t necessarily do it to attract other people, but it definitely helps.
Maybe animals do the same. Take the displays of dominance that some male animals exhibit when trying to attract a female. A lot of them even end up fighting. You see it all over the place. Even giraffes will engage in a neck-based tussle to gain control of a territory and the female attention that may come with it.
Surely a bit of work on the traps will help in that situation? Unfortunately, nobody knows. Maybe there’s a giraffe somewhere doing reps ready for the day it will enter neck combat.
The more likely answer is evolution. Animals that may need to fight to attract a female tend to have a genetic predisposition that helps them do that. Their bodies are likely wired to create muscle and the expense of other traits, such as intelligence.
You can even see that in humans. We are the most intelligent animals. Our brains use a ton of energy, which means we need to rely less on our muscles than other animals. It’s why our bodies try to preserve calories as much as possible. We often need to exercise if we want to get in shape because our bodies would otherwise just let us pile on pounds. A lot of animals don’t have that problem because their bodies prioritize calorie usage in different ways.
The Monkey That Does Pushups
None of that accounts for learned behavior. An animal in the wild probably won’t work out but what about one that’s in captivity?
There’s an interesting video floating around the web of a monkey that starts doing pushups and sit ups. Stop admiring the form and take a moment to consider how that even happened. Somebody must have taken the time out of their day to train a monkey to exercise.
That same monkey probably wouldn’t do those exercises in the wild. However, there’s a lot of things animals learn to do when exposed to humans. Maybe animals have the capacity to work out with the right trainer? To be fair, you could say the same about a lot of humans too.
The Final Word
There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of evidence to suggest that animals exercise of their own accord. That doesn’t mean it’s an impossibility. Dr. Halsey – from earlier in the article – even mentions how it’s an area that few people have actually researched.
Maybe there’s a camel yoga class going on right now that we don’t know about because we’ve never thought to look for it. It’ll be interesting to see what gets found if some intrepid scientists set out to observe animals specifically to see if they exercise. Some of the vids in this article suggest that some might, but for now, we just don’t know.
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