Have you ever had wagyu beef? Wagyu is the breed of cattle from which the infamous kobe beef is derived: highly marbled, impossibly tender. I mean, this stuff is ridiculous. I’ve had wagyu steak that you could cut with your fork, no knife required. It can actually be too melt-in-your-mouth tender for me. I’m not saying I like meat tough and stringy, but I like to know I’m actually eating something’s muscle tissue. At PrimalCon 2011, the wagyu steaks were grass-fed, grilled perfectly, and not overly tender or excessively marbled. Just great. I suspect they were a wagyu-angus crossbreed, which is true for most wagyu raised in the US. I can get behind wagyu like that.
So why am I talking about wagyu beef (why not?) and what does all have to do with “human interference factor”? Well, last week I happened across an interesting science story in a newspaper. It was your typical science reporting – kind of vague and prone to make broad proclamations based on limited evidence – but the study being referenced got my attention. In it, Australian researchers compared the postprandial inflammatory markers of patients after eating either 100 grams of wild kangaroo meat or 100 grams of Australian wagyu beef.
Height has historically been regarded as a marker of health and robustness. We seem to implicitly accept that bigger is indeed better, even if we don’t want to admit it. On average, tall people attain more professional success and make more money, the taller presidential candidate almost always wins, and women are more attracted to tall men. On a very visceral level, the taller person is more physically imposing. After all, who would you rather fight – the dude with a long reach raining punches from up high or the shorter guy with stubby arms who has to work his way inside your guard (although Mike Tyson did pretty well for himself with such “limitations”)? And on that note, who would you prefer as a mate – the physically imposing specimen or the shorter, presumably weaker male?
We in the Primal health community are quick to point out that agriculture reduced physical stature. Generally speaking, bone records indicate that Paleolithic (and, to a lesser extent, Mesolithic) humans were taller than humans living immediately after the advent of agriculture. Multiple sources exist, so let’s take a look at a couple of them before moving on:
Dr. Loren Cordain and a few MD colleagues have recently published a paper (PDF) called “Organic Fitness: Physical Activity Consistent with Our Hunter-Gatherer Heritage.” It makes for a great companion piece to Primal Blueprint Fitness, and it encapsulates quite nicely the breadth of research into the physical activities of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Read the whole thing. There’s probably nothing really new to you guys already well-versed in this stuff, but it’s good having it all in one space, and it’s good having it from more sources (not just me). If someone ever asks you why you go barefoot, avoid weight machines, squat below parallel (don’t you know it’s bad for your knees!?!), go on hikes for fun without sunscreen, and hate treadmills, you can send along a nice, neat package including the PBF eBook and the Cordain paper. This isn’t a “nyah, nyah, proven right again!” type thing (well, kinda). This is a “buttressing the incoming unavoidable inexorable impossible-to-ignore flood of evidence in favor of listening to evolution in matters of health and fitness” type thing. The times they are a changin’, eh?
Anyway, let’s get to the meaty bits of the paper – to what they call the “fundamental elements of ‘organic exercise,’ which may serve as a template from which to design a fitness strategy for adults living in today’s modern industrialized culture.” I’ve bolded and italicized their words (from a section of which the title of this article is derived) and followed up with my commentary:
While I think the idea of adult Paleolithic hunter-gatherers regularly dying at age 30 can be laid to rest (sadly, I reckon that particular misconception has an impressive life expectancy), last week’s post on the Gurven-Kaplan paper brings up another question: if the human potential lifespan of 68-78 years, or roughly seven decades, is an evolved, inherent, even genetic trait, what is the evolutionary justification for its selection? Where is the advantage?
The classic Darwinian view is that selection of traits revolves almost entirely around fertility. Once an animal can no longer produce offspring, it has no “reason” to go on living. Since a genes’ survivability ultimately comes down to reproduction, whether an individual can have kids is the primary determinant of viability.
Speculation on ancestral lifespan is fun and potentially illuminating, but I think examining living, albeit imperfect, examples of modern hunter-gatherers offers greater insight. Sure, the environment has changed, wild food sources have shrunk in diversity and availability, and modern civilization has encroached and meddled and disrupted, but the few remaining hunter-gatherer populations exhibiting relatively untouched traditional lifestyles represent the most promising window into what life actually looked like and how long it lasted for our ancestors. Luckily, a couple of researchers – Gurven and Kaplan – had the bright idea to look at ethnographic studies on actual, living HG populations and analyze the available data on actual lifespan and mortality therein. They found some interesting stuff.
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