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A new study of hunter-gatherers has amazing consequences for the choice of diet and exercise.



New Year brings new fitness permits, and with it new diets. A 2017 YouGov poll showed that 37% of Americans establish New Year's decisions that included "eat[ing] healthier "; the same percentage promised to "train more". Although diet and exercise may remain unchanged, specific trends in diet and exercise come and go; In the past two decades, krosfit, zumba, paleo diets, veganism, atkins, yoga and pilates have appeared in the fitness channel.

It is difficult to separate the noise from the signal when it comes to determining optimal healthy habits. In turning to most of the health research results, A new study of modern and ancient groups of hunter-gatherers shows that there is no single optimal diet for human health. Rather, there are many factors that influence how people in industrialized countries can lead a healthier lifestyle.

“Our whole species originated from the communities of hunters-gatherers,” Herman Ponzer, the lead author of the research and associate professor at the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University, explained to Salon. "We were hunting and gathering before we were, and if you want to understand how our physiology works, it is important to understand hunting and gathering and how it affects our body and health."

The study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, considered the lifestyle, diet and physical activity of hundreds of modern groups of hunter-gatherers, whose societies were comparable to the ancients.

The study notes that hunter-gatherer communities are important for public health professionals to study, as they can better understand the root of the “diseases of civilization,” which are often thought to be directly related to diet. The study notes that obesity and metabolic diseases are rare among hunter-gatherer communities, both modern and old, as well as type 2 diabetes. Causes of death in hunter-gatherer communities are mainly associated with injuries, including accidents and violence, or acute infectious diseases. The percentage of deaths from noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, is very low, but this does not mean that they necessarily eat better. All communities analyzed in the study had exceptional health, but relied on a wide range of diets.

So what makes a hunter-gatherer community healthy? Ponzer, who spent time with a group of indigenous Hadza people in Tanzania, said it might just be physical activity.

“If you live with hunter-gatherers, you are amazed at how active they are,” he told Salon. “You are on the move all day — you cannot afford the luxury of being lazy, and this impressed me a lot.”

The popular fetishization of the diet to the agricultural tribes is a source of inspiration for the wildly popular Paleo diet, a diet plan based on products similar to those used in the Paleolithic era. Ponzer said that this diet is not the most "natural" diet for people.

“Anyone who claims that there is only one real, natural human diet is simply wrong,” he said. “People were healthy thanks to different diets. It is incredibly changeable. "

Some common features among the communities covered in the paper are that they all eat a mixture of meat, fish, and plants. As a rule, they consume more fiber than the average American. When it comes to carbohydrates, these communities rely on vegetables and starchy plants that prevent carbohydrate intake from raising blood sugar levels. This is not to say that they do not eat sugar: honey makes up a large part of the diet for many hunter-gatherer groups, the researchers explain.

For example, among the Hadze hunter-gatherers, the above-mentioned group of indigenous people in Tanzania, who rely on what some have called the diet a million years, honey makes up 15–20 percent of their diet, the study says. The amount of calories consumed by a Hadza is similar to the calories of an average American, but the variety of foods differs in that Hadza relies on a small selection of foods that do not include processed foods and technical sugar.

According to the study, what you eat and how you train is connected and important for a healthy life, but perhaps not in the way that industrial society conceives. As explained in the study, exercise can be a way to regulate the energy consumed every day — energy that the body can spend on inflammation if not used. This would contradict the theories that “industrialized populations are prone to metabolic diseases because they are less active and therefore consume less calories per day,” as stated in the study.

"Exercise can also help regulate appetite, improving the balance between energy consumption and consumption, and it has been shown that exercise helps maintain weight loss," the study said. "The regulating effect of the exercises deserves further attention."

Researchers completed the study, drawing attention to other aspects of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that may affect human health.

“Close friendships and family ties, low levels of social and economic inequality and a lot of time spent outdoors are typical of hunter-gatherer groups and other small societies,” the study says. “Their absence in modern societies is associated with chronic social stress and a number of non-communicable diseases, including metabolic diseases and obesity. Working on understanding the evolutionary roots of modern diseases, we must strive for a more integrated and holistic understanding of lifestyle and health among hunter-gatherers today and in our collective past. ”

The study is doing everything possible not to assume that the industrialized world should return to the diet of hunter-gatherers. Pontzer said that we are talking about finding elements that are missing in our daily life, which work for hunter-gatherers.

"One lesson can be to stand on your feet and move around as much as possible every day, watch what you eat and avoid foods that never make you feel full, eat tons of fiber … it's all good places to start, ”he said.

In other words, don't worry about counting Atkins points or going through exactly 10,000 steps a day. Broad strokes, rather than obsessive counting of calories, steps and sugar, seem to be the key to health.


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