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Roehampton ecologist poses a new question ‘do animals exercise to keep fit?’

For many of us a popular new year’s resolution is to join the gym. Given that we need to exercise to keep in shape, could some other animals need to do the same? Dr Lewis Halsey, an eco-physiologist from the University of Roehampton asks this question in a new article for the British Ecological Society.

Posted: 22 January 2016

image for news story Roehampton ecologist poses a new question ‘do animals exercise to keep fit?’
Penguins are one of the animals that change their body condition depending on their environment.

Surprisingly, it is a topic that seems to have rarely been considered, let alone studied. According to Halsey, researchers have not contemplated the idea that some animals don't undertake enough exercise during their general activities to give them the fitness levels required for infrequent yet high-intensity and vital activities such as fleeing from predators.

The article 'Do Animals Exercise to Keep Fit?' published in the Journal of Animal Ecology encourages more research on this topic and outlines a set of concepts and the experiments used to test them. Halsey points out that certain animals’ body condition (physiology) changes in response to environmental factors; for example, some animals put on more or less fat depending on whether there are many predators around. This underlines the importance that animals bestow on their physical state in maximising their capabilities given the environment they are in. The next question is whether this includes maintaining high levels of athletic capacity.

Dr Halsey, who leads the Roehampton University Behaviour and Energetics Lab (RUBEL), said, "If animals are undertaking activities solely or partly to keep fit, this opens up a significant new facet to our understanding and interpretation of animal behaviour. No one has previously observed animal behaviours and thought 'this behaviour could be associated with keeping fit.'"

Future findings could have implications for a wider understanding of animal behaviour. If some animals do exercise, they will have less energy for other activities, such as mating. Whether this trade-off exists, and how animals manage it if so, is what Dr Lewis Halsey argues needs to be investigated.

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