Were Our Hunter-Gatherer Ancestors REALLY More Athletic & Active?

I spent this past week in Berkeley, California at the Ancestral Health Symposium (AHS), a gathering of researchers, doctors and paleo fans sharing the latest and greatest information on ancestral diets and living.

Dr. James Steele, PhD of Southampton University in the United Kingdom, presented a thought provoking lecture examining the common myth that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were more active and athletic than our present day selves. The myth of Tarzan and Jane running and jumping through the jungle is a romantic one, but is it actually true? Dr. Steele reviewed all the latest research on this hot topic and hisconclusions were surprising.

Incredibly, the research does NOT support the notion that our ancient hunter-gather Paleo ancestors were more active than we are. In fact, our current activity levels are on par with primal man. It seems they actually spent a lot of time relaxing and doing chores around the house (that sounds familiar!).

But, Dr. Steele notes that our primal ancestors were most definitely fitter than current day man. So, what gives? If they had the same amount or volume of exercise, how could they possibly be fitter? The answer is in the intensity of exercise.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors engaged in much more vigorous activity, or high intensity exercise – sprinting, pulling, pushing, climbing – than we currently do, and the physiological benefits of high intensity exertion is well documented in sports medicine to be highly beneficial for health and performance.

There you have it. Paleo people were indeed fitter than today’s population, but not because they spent all day running and jumping through the jungle. The reality is they were likely just as sedentary as we are today. But when they moved, they exerted themselves tremendously… a great thing to remember when analyzing your exercise regime.

Until Friday, enjoy your week!

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CSCS