Most People seem to agree that we cannot and do not want to go back to the past, but the reason given is often wrong; that time has moved on and what was can never be again. The truth is that we cannot go back to what we never left. Our home is the earth, our time the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The past is the formula for our being.
(Paul Shepard)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

How they ACTUALLY exercise

I can't edit my posts so I apologise if this one is a wee bit wobbly.
The greatest thing about the evolutionary eating movement is that we finally have real science being integrated to provide a great framework on which to base healthy eating choices. Free, or at least freer of the unbelievable dogma, industry funding, special interest propaganda and just breathtakingly bad science that haunts the nutrition world.
Hopefully Paleo will survive the popularisation and go on to provide a real alternative, hopefully in time to head off regulation and taxes on real foods high in the demons of saturated fat etc. Now that the silliness of the low carb for everyone is dying a deserved death and it is becoming a bit more of a real food/traditional movement it may start attracting the attention of food writers and chefs.
I should just declare that relative to the population I eat low carb eating only a a small amount of starch daily Equivalent to a few bananas or sweet potatoes.
The net has been cast wider than actual hunter gatherers and now encompasses horticulturalists who also share their relative good health and lack of DoCs. This has led to a closer examination of the original Low-carb hypothesis and has led to the "safe starch" debate. There will actually be a real life debate at the Ancestral Health symposium but sadly actual anthropologist Frank Marlowe won't be there.
Low and high being pretty useless terms Cordain would seem to be on safe ground saying that most Hunter gatherers would consume fewer calories from carbohydrate than fat especially out of the tropics. However it is patently clear that many hunters and horticulturalists can thrive on diets which feature the bulk of the calories from carbohydrate sources.
The low carb thing never sat well with me neither does the whole circadian rhythm thing as it perfectly clear from any anthropological study that many hunter gatherers (especially in the tropics) stay up well into the night just like modern people. Being from quite far north I was constantly surprised how short the days were when I first went to the tropics, I couldn't have slept if I had wanted to.
Oh no I've rambled!!!!
Anyhow this post is going to be about exercise, part of what I would consider a holy trinity of diet, exercise and stress avoidance/management. I was rather unimpressed to read in Ray Audettes book "neanderthin" that he supposed early man exercised no more than a leisurely round of golf. I much preferred Art deVaneys version of sprinting and heavy lifting. This appears to be the case in general witrh various types espousing or at least doing crossfit type workouts such as Mark Sissons, Melissa Mcewan Richard Nickoley etc etc.
That Paleolithic (or hunter gatherers) people were more robust than the farmers who followed them is a pretty universal trend. It does not appear to be the case with modern HG people. The !Kung appear positively feeble when compared to the pastoralists who live near them.
Some Hunter Gatherers have returned to the lifestyle having been agriculturalists or pastoralists, some have survived by retreating further into hostile environments, some have achieved a kind of symbiosis with the agricultural peoples who live nearby. They are not relic peoples and are living in the modern world with all its problems (often amplified). An important caveat.
I think however it is time to look at what is known of the remaining foraging peoples and see how it can be used to develop an evolutionary congruent exercise framework. It is tempting to set up a workout and then back engineer a story to go with it. Deadlifting has sometimes been likened to hauling Bison parts out of arroyo traps for example, this seems fair enough though I doubt anyone hauled out several or even one bison out of a trap once a week or more. If I read the phrase "sprinting away from big cats" again I am going to be sick.

There are a number of well documented hunter gatherers societies but I am going to concentrate on the eastern Hadza as I like them I just want to address one thing before we look at them.
I have been over this before The !kung have a fairly successful hunting strategy of persistence hunting large animals. The Tarahumara, Apache and other horticulturalist Indians also have traditions of long distance running and some Indians have used it as a way of catching game (among many many other techniques. Inuit also run long distances but as far as I know don't hunt that way, I have heard of it among the Aborigines of Australia but have not been able to verify this.
Given that there were many other bipedal apes many of whom didn't hunt or even consume much flesh I think it is a bit much to call long distance running an evolutionary niche for humans. Running is also an area where there are lots of believers and quite frankly I ain't interested in finding out more from them for the same reasons I don't discuss nutrition with vegans, their minds are made up and facts are an unfortunate obstacle to their truth. One of the speakers at the Ancestral Health symposium claimed the Hadza ran a half marathon every day. I have never heard of them doing such a thing and went as far as to contact a man who had spent some time with them to confirm that running is unusual in that culture.
That said we can't dismiss running from the framework and if we are going to run (and I run) we should look at how the hunters actually do it. Barefoot marathons on New York asphalt it ain't!
How the farming tarahumara or Apache run is of little interest to me or relevance to this framework. Their running is a social construct about conflict resolution rather than resource gathering. While they may be of interest to marathon runners they aren't of interest to my evolutionary fitness.
In this paper we see that the !kung went after Kudu . The hunts were a mixture of walking and running and lasted from less than two hours to over six. The average distance was 27.8 km (17.2Mi) with a range from 17.3 km (10.7Mi) to 35.2km (21.8Mi). The average speed was 6.1kph with a range from 4.2 kph to 10kph. The hunters mixed walking and running, as an average humans' walking pace is 5kph the hunts were hardly fast paced. Running and walking were intermixed though on the hunts outlined in the paper it looks like a running pace is the norm. The first hunt featured 97mins of running to 40 minutes of walking this was over 17.3 km over 3hrs 40mins giving an average pace of just under walking speed 4.8kph. the longest run was for 18 minutes. The hunt also featured tracking and presumably some head scratching.
Clearly from this paper we cannot make the case for long distance running being an appropriate activity in an evolutionary framework.
The paper does make a case for mixing up running (jogging?) and walking over longish distances. distance far shorter than a marathon at much longer times, with friends without competing and across country.
The paper also clearly states that weakened or otherwise incapacitated animals are "run" down, this would seem to be in contrast to the physical evidence left by paleolithic hunters which shows prime animals being targeted. For example the Swanscombe rhinos were large and healthy (and also quite unlikely to run!)
However EVERY hunter gatherer society uses projectile weapons which show an increasing sophistication over time. If you are reading this blog and you aren't throwing spears look at links on the left make a thrower and go and practise. Direct participation in 30,000 years of human activity. Anthropologists also record that Hunters practise with their weapons all the time (Hadza Inuit aborigines). Throwing spears and shooting hunting weight bows is fun and physically both stimulating and tiring. It may be less effective in the Kalahari but it almost certainly isn't less energy efficient to sit and wait by a water hole as the Hadza do.
Right let's look at what anthropologist Marlowe says about average workloads for Hadza. He studied the Eastern Hadza, the Hadza men hunt with bows and gather honey while the women gather tubers, both sexes gather Baobab seeds. Women leave toddlers in camp but carry nurslings. Meat and honey are in short supply for the Eastern Hadza. The Western Hadza have more of both but encroachment from pastoralists and government interference have made the lives of all Hadza much harder. I don't know whether thee extra honey and meat found in the west affects what the hadza consume or whether they barter it for arrow heads ugali meal etc.
I will draw from Mathiessen Marlowe and Stephenson for this portrait. The Hadza rouse at 6-7 am when the sun rises many are up before this due to the cold. They eat any left over food (if any) women head out from about 8-9am. Hunters are presumably out before this. Hadza sleep through noon for a few hours and eat at about 7:30pm. Women and children gather water and firewood at about 5pm. On nights when there is no dancing Hadza sleep at about 9pm. Hadza eat whenever there is food and do no work (like most HG people) when food is plentiful.
Women walk for about 10-30 minutes to good tuber locations sometimes they visit six or seven patches with about 5-10minutes between them. It requires 10-20 minutes of vigorous digging through often rocky soil to dig up a tuber. Womens' digging lasts about 2-3 hrs with short rests. Berries require little effort to collect and all ages and genders can meet the needs with minimal effort. Baobab seeds are gathered from the floor and carried back for processing Men sometimes climb the trees to collect them or shake them down for women. Men also try to hit them with thrown sticks.
Honey is often climbed for men also make pegs and climb trees with these pegs to get honey. Honey requires climbing with tools such as axes and firebrands. Honey also requires being stung (alot!) which doesn't seem to bother them.
Falling is a major cause of death for Hadza.
Unlike some hunters Hadza usually hunt alone leaving camp before sunrise if the animal being hunted becomes aware of their presence Hadza usually give up the chase. Hadza rarely run. Women make up a portion of animals foods through some reptiles baby birds and other small game. Hadza ambush by arriving at the spot chosen before or during the dark, they will sit in wait for up to twelve hours. At night hunters hunt in pairs for safety.
Hadza scavenge by hearing animal cries and seeing vultures. They drive animals of their prey and this can account for up to 14% of meat consumed.
Baobab are processed through pounding tubers are carried in cloth or skin bags, while meat is carried back to camp. Loads can be heavy. As an aside I was stunned how heavy deer are the first time I carried a dead one.
Men walk an average of 8.3km per hunt spending about 6 hours out of camp and travelling at 3.6kph they stop often. Women travel 5.5km at 3.5kph over 4.1 hrs. productivity in calories drops of for men at about 45 and a bit later for women but remains high for both sexes. It really does seem that for African hunters at least experience makes good hunters.

Here is a video my friend took in the Kalahari this is a real hunt. The Bushmen are squatting he said their buttocks were touching their heels and that none of the Europeans that were with them could come anywhere close to doing it.

It should be clear that while long or mid distance travel is the norm for hunter gatherers it is conducted at what we would describe as a moderate or even slow pace. Of course it is in (to us) the wild on natural, uneven but generally softer surfaces. Climbing trees and rocks is a big part of life certainly for men.
It is pretty hard to see from modern studies of HG groups what they do that would lead to Paleolithic hunters being more robust than the farmers following them. Hunters walk far more and often carry loads climb and are more flexible in their requirements and activities, but primitive farmers have toil, real toil. They sometimes hunt and also often have conflict resolution games such as running, wrestling or intense games. It may be that the hunters were able to "pay for" a more robust frame with better nutrition, the writers of Paleopathology at the origin of Agriculture wrote that the greater incidence of arthritis among hunters was probably due to their longer lifespans. Alternatively it may be a case of many hands making light work.
How can we use the information gathered from hunter gatherers and archaeology to influence how we might base a workout an evolutionary principles?
The main work of HG peoples is undeniably walking. Even the !kung walk more than they run, for the most part HGs walk unencumbered save for light weapons/tools. Women carry children they never push them in wheel chairs (for which only a seriously bad back is any excuse). All work with their hands making things/treating hides processing food. Food is usually only obtained after making an effort to get it most HGs don't store much food. Women, in addition to carrying children, dig and gather in all but the most Northern societies. Mbuti women take part in hunts as do many Alaskan Eskimos. Men climb and often climb while loaded, men also carry heavy burdens and travel further. All these activities are done in the outdoors among rocks, fallen trees etc etc. Everyone dances regularly.
Occasionally men or women might be attacked by an animal or even human. This is very occasional and contrary to what anyone says you cannot outrun a lion or even dinofelis, Hadza at least don't try to outrun them. How frequent this kind of event is is hard to say, but it cannot be too frequent otherwise there would be no one left. Any conflict (and there is evidence of this in the paleolithic but not much and not in all areas) is of course armed and I have never heard of any kind of specific training for it. men practise with their hunting weapons regularly.
So your average western man doesn't have six or so hours to spend every day hiking through the woods. Jogging being calorific ally similar to walking may be a nice option here. Jogging cross country taking advantage of every jump and climbable tree would seem a nice compromise and a 5 mile run is quite adaptable to most peoples lives. Of course walking or cycling to work is a great option for those who can take it.
It would appear that in general HG people do not lift anything they cannot the either carry or climb with, I can single rep deadlift far more than I can comfortably walk with. Safer and more fitting for the modern world heavy lifting doesn't appear to have an evolutionary justification but it does appear to be beneficial to most. Sprinting, particularly tabata sprinting, does not appear to have a evolutionary background though it is eminently suited to the modern world. Fighting or defending ones self from animals is so rare as to not really feature in a regular work out programme and just turning up at a gym and sparring once a year is going to be a great way to get knocked out.
So lets look at what we lessons we can draw.
1; HGs live in a time rich, resource poor world (relative) they live outdoors make and prepare everything they wear use and eat. A deer is worth the time making the arrow (or even the bow) a 10 mile round trip while loaded and any amount of time sitting and waiting. Steffanson and Brody make alot of the Inuits' glacial patience. Both sexes, but not all ages, "work hard" though in our society their "work" is often our recreational activity. Manual work is the norm for all tedious work like shelling nuts or preparing hides is alleviated by it being shared.
2; We live in a time poor society. We almost certainly cannot exercise in a manner totally consistent with our genetic heritage. Our society is also risk averse and access to nature is restricted to most. We also are largely community-less and considerably more exposed to chronic stressors.
3; the primary exercise (if I can use the word) is locomotive, walking and climbing with some jumping and running. Where tubers are present women will dig for them.
4; dancing is a very common activity children are very active.
5; People who have spent time with hunter gatherers are usually impressed by how physically able they are.

This post has meandered somewhat. I have tried to look at anthropology to see how it can inform our modern exercise. Exercise to me has always been about replacing what does not need to happen in the modern world. Exercise like nutrition is a world of belief and bad science exercise is also firmly wedded to sport which is quite different to health and has different outcomes. Sport science informs exercise plans perhaps more than it should. If we want to create an exercise pattern that meets the needs of our genes then we need to go beyond sports and see how people work and play in societies that still correspond roughly to the genetic "norm". We will usually need to compromise somewhat as we don't have the time or space to do as they do.
I used to lift heavy and run a fair bit though I work far fewer hours now I am more tied up in that I am the primary carer for my daughter. If I had the opportunity I would take Movnat courses as Erwen le Corre appears to have "got it" better than most. I can see no evolutionary basis for regular very intense exercise I also think that many of the Paleo bloggers and writers need to go on more back country hikes and camps and do plenty more hunting, with bows if possible.
I walk long distances with my girl through woods and fields I climb trees and vault gates where possible (to her applause). I shoot regularly which involves crawling and weird squat walks. Last time I had to sprint to get a rabbit (the shot passed clean through it's neck so it bled out rather than dropping as normal) and climb over a big pile of thorny brush to recover another. I run through my local woods and climb every decent tree I can find I alternate between running fast and slow. I would dance but my wife doesn't want to so I do martial arts.
I also throw spears and shoot bows for my work (and play). Occasionally I go bouldering or engage in other fun sports. I don't do anything that isn't fun always try to exercise outside in barefoot shoes (merrels) and play whenever I can.
I think the post won't end so I'm ending it....the end

1 comment:

  1. It comes to my mind of everything in moderation. Exercising relatively gently all day as opposed to cramming in the same amount of exercise (which I believe is extremely rare to push yourself that hard in our society) into the space of an hour or so (like I have taken upon myself). It would be interesting to see the comparisons in fitness between the average !Kung or Hadza and very fit Westerner. Perhaps we would be beaten purely on endurance and skill (such as climbing and hunting, for those of us who are slightly limited for such activities). Perhaps I am rambling now too!