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Matt Hardy

What can we learn from our caveman ancestors?

Welcome to/back to my blog. In this blog, we’re going to talk about what we can learn from our cavemen ancestors. Fundamentally our bodies haven’t massively changed over the last 5000 years and I find myself talking about evolution more and more in my clinical practice.

Let’s think macro for a moment. Consider the modern world and how it differs from 5000 years ago. For the first time in the history of our species, more people are now dying related to an abundance of food rather than a scarcity of food.

“At least 2.8 million people each year die as a result of being overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity nearly tripled between 1975 and 2016” (According to the World Health Organisation)

We now have access to billions of people (and bots) via the technologies in our pockets. For one, there weren’t even a billion people on the planet 5000 years ago and now Facebook has near 3 billion monthly users. An unfathomable number of people to our ancestors.

Technology has also meant we can travel large distances in a matter of hours. It would’ve taken our ancestors months if not years to get from Britain to North Africa. We can now jump on a plane and be there within 4 hours or drive it in less than 3.

So why am I telling you this? To understand our bodies it’s important to know where we have come from. It’s important to understand what our body is good at and when it works its best. This information (in my opinion), will help us live a healthier, happier and longer life. Below are my big 5 lessons we can learn from our cavemen ancestors.

1. Move more

The human body has evolved to be efficient at moving. Ever heard the phrase hunter, gatherer? Well, that’s what we are. Early humans would have moved relatively large distances daily to find food, water and materials. We migrated over huge distances as our population expanded. Moving from the plains of Africa, through Europe and beyond.

Biomechanically we’re designed for walking and running. Notice how no matter your fitness level you’re able to walk considerably further than you can run? The adaptations we have help this.

We’re not very fury compared to other great apes. This helps with managing body temperature. We have thin wrists and ankles to help dissipate heat. Our head can move independently of our shoulder girdle. We have arches in our feet to absorb shock. We have massive muscles in our legs and smaller ones in our arms (unless you miss leg day of course!).

All of our systems work better when we walk. Think about your bowels, kidneys and pain systems that are all positively affected by walking

2. Sit less, squat more

We’re not ‘designed’ to sit. We’re designed to be in 3 positions most of the time. Standing/walking, laying down flat and squatting (a skill in the west, a lot of us have lost). Let’s think about tribes that aren’t westernised, who sits? 1 person, the chief of the tribe. Everyone else stands or squats when they’re being addressed. Still don’t believe me about squatting? What if I tell you your back passage is bent when you sit on the toilet but straight when you squat down?

Unfortunately at 4/5 years old (when we start school), we get plonked on a chair and that is where most of us remain for the rest of our lives. If you have children watch them next time they are playing. Watch how much they squat when playing on the floor. Maintaining this skill has been seen to be a great advantage in sporting performance. Keep encouraging your kids to squat, keep that skill!

3. Eat whole foods

Now a Men’s Health Model I am not, and I love processed, high sugar food as much, if not more than most. So this isn’t a preach because this one is the hardest for me. I watched a TedTalk during the first lockdown about the evolution of man which sent me down a rabbit hole and I came back up with this blog. In that TedTalk the person giving the talk described us as a cookinavor. Our ability to become the most dominant species on the planet comes from our ability to cook and extract more nutrients from the food we eat. Couple that with our ability to pass information onto the next generation and we’re quite the formidable species.

Now let’s think about our gut, it’s very efficient in extracting sugar and storing it as fat. The reason for this is our brains only use one nutrient to keep it working. Glucose! Now nutrition isn’t my area of expertise but it is an area of interest for me and I’ve done a lot of reading but I’m happy to stand corrected by people who know more than me. Especially if they prove me wrong with data and evidence.

If we think about how our ancestors would’ve eaten. They ate what they could find and what was in season. There’s evidence to suggest that eating lots of sugar promotes us to eat more sugar because that’s what we would’ve done when fruit was in season at the end of the summer. Berries are colourful and there’s an argument to say we have such a colourful vision to find (relatively) high sugar fruit when it was in season. We would then gorge eat it and store some fat to get us through the winter. This is why sweets are colourful. It’s a great marketing ploy to get us to buy them. The point to take here is that our bodies love sugar and reducing our intact, in my opinion, is probably the best for our health.

Everything would be fresh and natural with no additives and plenty of fibre. We extract more calories from processed foods than whole food counterparts. That’s because it’s effectively pre chewed for us. That’s not to say you should only eat whole foods but they should be the mainstay of our diet, but something like a pizza now and again is fine.

4. Drink mainly water

Simple one this. In a modern western world, our access to clean drinking water is as simple as turning on a tap. Water makes up a huge percentage of our body so let’s give it what it needs. Carbonated drinks, coffee, tea and alcohol are all poor hydrators which can contribute to a reduction in gut transit, concentration and physical performance. Be a little bit careful with the water you can over hydrate and flush all your salt out of your system. This is as bad as not having enough water. Our bodies use 1.5 litres a day on average so get that at a minimum, more if it’s hot or you’re active.

5. Only care what a small number of people think and be social in person

In caveman times we would have only a tiny amount of people to interact with socially. Tribes were relatively small compared to modern-day standards. You cannot please and agree with nearly 7 Billion people on this planet so stop trying to on Twitter! It’s not good for your health!

I hope this information has helped and given you some (whole) food for thought. Simple takeaways, get out of the chair and walk more often, drink enough water and enjoy the company of your friends and forget about the bots on Twitter!

As ever, If you do want to book in for a 1-1 session if you have an injury, ache or pain you can do so by using this link, I’d love to help.

Have a great day

Matt