The heart lifestyle

In the Western world we accept as part of ageing that your risk for heart disease will increase. The evidence is however, that it does not have to be this way, not if you were, for instance to live more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Two studies in the journal Hypertension have made this point.

The first study examined almost 2300 adults living in Tsimane villages in the Amazon Basin. The Tsimane live as forager-horticulturalists eating plantains, rice, corn, manioc, fish, and any game they can hunt. This is a similar lifestyle to that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

The rate of high blood among the Tsimane was found to be one tenth that which found among modern Western societies (where around 33 per cent of adults have high blood pressure). Additionally, high blood pressure among Westerners after the age of 40 increases per decade at about seven times the rate that it does for Tsimane men and about three times the rate that it does for Tsimane women.

In the other study Pygmies living as hunter-gatherers in the equatorial forests of Cameroon were compared to semi-urbanised Pygmies, and farmers known as the “Bantou”. Measurements showed that Pygmies living as hunter-gatherers had arteries that were much less stiff than their counterparts (as measured by pulse wave velocity). This translated to a 20 per cent reduction in risk of atherosclerosis.

None of this is to idealise the Tsimane or Pygmie lifestyle as they too have their downsides. However, the bottom line is that heart disease and stroke are not necessarily inevitable with age but are tied to how you live.

It seems then that high blood pressure, arteries like concrete and all of the associated heart risks that go with these two are a result of the fast-paced, stress-laden, disconnected, “convenience” food nature of modern living. The researchers suggest that the qualities of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that protect your heart are high physical activity, low stress levels, and diets high in fruit and vegetables and low in salt and alcohol.

No-one is suggesting that you should favour a loin-cloth as your daily attire and begin doing nasty things to possums with a pointed stick or start rooting out your neighbours tubers. However, exercising regularly, disengaging from work practices that cause you stress, and growing your own food in your own backyard with all of the physical and meditative qualities that come with that endeavour would be the start of doing your heart a big favour.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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