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26 May 2011

Move Like a Hunter-Gatherer, Live Longer

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of chronic disease and live a longer life may be to act like a hunter-gatherer.

Scientists recently analyzed the physical habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors -- people who tended to engage in short bursts of physical activity (mostly outside) coupled with periods of rest -- and health experts agree we'd probably all be better off physically if we followed that example. In fact, our bodies may be genetically programmed for it.

Walk on the Wild Side
Our hunter-gatherer predecessors were pretty busy. Whether they were digging for roots and tubers; making tools; building shelters; hunting; or carrying logs, food, or small children, they were often on the move. All in all, they probably expended between 800 and 1,200 calories per day doing physical things -- most of them outdoors. But the average American today? We expend only a small fraction of energy doing anything physical. As a result, our stamina, muscle strength, and flexibility aren't maintained. What's more, our inactive ways cause us to miss out on yet more healthful habits enjoyed by hunter-gatherers -- socializing and outdoor living. Hunting and foraging in small groups provided our ancestors with a social outlet and an opportunity to be outside frequently -- both of which are natural mood boosters. (Related: Discover why outdoor workouts are better for your mood and your health.)

Get Back to Nature
Human beings lived for eons as hunter-gatherers, so it's not surprising that our bodies are built to thrive under physically demanding conditions outside. Ready to activate your hunter-gatherer genes? Here's a fitness plan that will help emulate the hunter-gatherer way:

Hit the trails. Researchers estimate that hunter-gatherers walked between 4 and 10 miles a day just to find necessities! While you might not be able to hit that lofty mark, you could probably do a lot more than you're currently doing. Find ways to walk more during everyday tasks, and bake a daily walk into your schedule as well. Try these three tricks to boost walking benefits.

Lift things. At least two to three times a week, you should do some strength training. Instead of carrying logs, carry groceries, laundry, kids, and pets. Instead of stacking rocks, lift weights at home or at the gym. Watch this video to see why strength training is so good for women's weight.

Get your flex on. Activities like yoga, dancing, tai chi, and gardening can help improve your flexibility -- something that hunter-gatherers had in spades. Here's an easy 12-point yoga pose you can do every day.

Do it outdoors. Exercising outside on natural surfaces (the ones we evolved with, like grass and dirt) works more muscles and boosts your balance.

Work out with a buddy. You'll get the added benefit of mood-boosting social interaction.

Mix it up. Once or twice a week, alternate short bursts of moderate- to high-intensity physical activity with periods of rest and recovery to challenge your heart and lungs. Follow harder workout days with easier workout days. Hunter-gatherers got lots of rest, relaxation, and sleep when recovering from physically demanding days. Here's another good reason to stay in bed.