For the last 30 years or so, I have been told over and over again how to take care of myself. Eat right, don’t smoke, exercise, don’t drink too much, get regular check-ups, drive safely, etc.
We all know these things are important, but do we always follow these recommendations? Not really. As a society, we are overweight, hypertensive, have heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions. We are sedentary, over eat and eat what we want when we want.
Even so, we are constantly bombarded with new diets and new weight-loss supplements. Fitness has become a major U.S. industry and new exercise crazes are emerging all the time.
Throughout history, however, fitness has not always been a major societal focus. Our ancient ancestors did not join a gym and participate in CrossFit or Zumba or anything similar. By living off the land, they received plenty of exercise. As a result, they did not experience many of the health problems we experience today.
Genetically, our bodies are the same as they were 40,000 years ago when humans were hunters and gatherers. So, this means that our genes still “think” we are hunters and gatherers.
Hunting wild animals required long periods of walking, jogging or sprinting, combined with pushing, pulling and lifting, in addition to gathering wild plants and other sources of food and water. These activities naturally resulted in cardio and strength-building exercises.
There is an approach to fitness known as Evolutionary Fitness that is based on our ancestors’ environment. Dr. Arthur De Vany’s book, “The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging” (December 2010), presents a fitness approach that simulates the natural way ancestral people lived. This approach is in contrast to the steady and regular eating and exercise regimen we see today.
In addition, Dr. De Vany recommends a diet that mimics ancient humans’ diet during the Paleolithic period using vegetables, lean meat and seafood, fresh fruits and nuts. He also advocates glucose restriction and intermittent fasting as methods to turn down the aging pathways.
Our ancestors, according to Dr. De Vany, were well nourished because they ate low-calorie, nutritionally dense foods, all fresh and uncontaminated, and they ate in large quantities to fulfill their high-energy needs. Dieters today who consume calorie-rich foods with low nutrients and who eat in small quantities run the risk of malnutrition. The risk is even higher if they are sedentary because food intake is restricted so severely.
Even in today’s world, contemporary hunter-gatherer societies rarely experience the diseases which plague modern man, such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Dr. DeVany states: “The primary objectives of any exercise and diet program must be to counter hyperinsulinemia (chronically elevated insulin) and hypoexertion (wasting of the body’s lean mass through inactivity) – these are the No. 1 health risks in western society.”
“Intermittent, intense exercise in brief spurts,” as he recommends, “promotes hormone drives that quench hyperinsulinemia and build muscle and bone density that keep you young and lean.”
The Evolutionary Fitness approach on the surface makes sense and I will probably incorporate certain aspects of it into my own fitness regimen. But fitness still is based on proper diet and exercise either naturally, as it was for our ancestors, or unnaturally, as it mainly is for us today. I guess I will have to continue to eat right and exercise for another 30 years … or until it kills me trying.
Jim Barfield is the president, CEO and co-owner of Luke & Associates, Inc. His company, founded in 2004 is a major provider of medical and clinical support services for the military. In addition, Luke provides advisory and assistance services in the fields of engineering, research, information systems and medical systems.