Part I of a 3 part post
Do you remember a parent or teacher telling you as a child to sit still and be quiet? There are many influences today that send the same message. Unfortunately, that lesson was too well learned, because today, our sedentary lifestyle is doing severe damage to our health.
To put this in perspective, let's consider what affected the health of our ancestors, the hunter gatherers. It's true they didn't live as long as modern man.
However, when they died, it was almost exclusively due to trauma and/or the infection that followed. Even if our ancestors weren't eaten by a predator, cause for injury was everywhere.
Life was tough in those days. Food was often scarce and physical activity was nearly constant.
Life didn't permit inactivity, and food was too scarce for one to get fat!
Now, let's fast forward to about 20,000 years ago, to what many anthropologists call the WORST health choice mankind ever made, agriculture!
How can a scientist make such a statement, you ask?
Well, it seems that as mankind devoted more time to herding animals and raising crops, we also assumed the associated risk of the many diseases caused by bacteria and viruses.
Instead of the hunter-gather tactic of moving away from a place as it became contaminated by waste and germs, people had to stay put until the crop grew.
Instead of being hunted, domesticated animals were now living (literally) with the people that cared for them.
Fossil records show that during this transition, people doing agriculture actually shrunk in size; about three inches. Their bones also show the effect of disease and poor nutrition due to less food variety. But, at least famines were less likely.
And, we humans are persistent! Collectively, we increased our numbers. We spread out across the world; now, no single local disaster could eliminate the human race.
However, during this period, the greatest cause for death became pathogens; Black Plague, Scarlet fever, Tuberculosis, Flu Pandemics, etc.
All the dangers of crowding together in a local space in this period were unleashed. Germs were the biggest threat to survival; but, we managed to out-breed the losses. Life wasn't very pleasant then, and was still too difficult to allow many people to get fat!
One hundred years ago, although it may be hard to believe, the average person used enough calories in his daily routine to equal TEN extra miles of walking compared to today's average American!
Until about 1950, only the privileged few had the means to be sedentary/overweight.
For the rest of us, life was still too strenuous.
After WWII and the Korean conflict, Americans entered into what's called "the Golden Age".
We had unprecedented access to food, security and leisure. The big thing was "labor saving devices"
I'm old enough to remember this period, it was GREAT!
Too great! We started eating more and doing less. What seems to be a normal lifestyle and diet today, is the opposite of what is good for us; almost the exact opposite of how evolution shaped the human race!
Take a look at the USDA graph pictured here.
The percentage of overweight/obese adults is very low in 1960 compared to the 2/3rds of adults overweight/obese today. What's even more compelling is the 1960 figure that shows NO overweight children. There were not enough of them to be statistically significant! And yet, today, childhood obesity is considered epidemic.
What's killing us today is not germs, but lifestyle!
Heart attack, cancer, stroke, diabetes, COPD etc., are primarily due to the "Western Diet" and inactivity!
Our bodies have spent millions of years evolving to make the most of every bit of food we consume, and to conserve that energy for when it is really needed.
So, don't blame your body, it's doing a great job (for a hunter gatherer)!
Ask almost anyone what is needed to be healthy, and they'll probably say,"Eat right and exercise". Easier said than done.
The next installment will explain why it's nearly impossible to do this in today's society.