Sometimes, I really miss the old days of tearing into mouthfuls of raw carcass and foraging for bulging grubs on the forest floor. Other days, it’s the memory of cliffside danglings in pursuit of a choice lingonberry that mists my eyes. In this era of vending machine manna from carb heaven and canned chemical sweetness and gleaming aisles of ever-sturdy trans-fat delicacies, living life on the primal side of health ain’t easy. Here’s how I cope.
What is Primal Health?
Last week I riffed at length about my passionate philosophy I’ve nicknamed “primal health”. Don’t worry – no grub ingestion required.
Quick recap: I believe human health issues – from nutrition to stress to weight loss to fitness – must be considered from a biological perspective. Our Primal blueprints – our DNA – tell us everything we need to know about optimal health. The reasons for my point of view are many, but primarily, I’m a biology buff and I love a bloody steak. To borrow an apt phrase I once overheard, if the cow stood in the sun, that’s cooked enough for me. (OK, OK, I’m kidding! I’ve gone years at a time without eating red meat.)
We’ve all heard the commonly asserted “fact” that humans are living longer than they ever have in history. You hear about people in the Middle Ages dying at 35, and early humans evidently fared even worse.
This is a little misleading. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, lived longer than most Americans do today – well into his 80s by most accounts. The reason people “back then” croaked so soon was because they had to worry about tribal wars, broken limbs, deficiency diseases and starvation. And because humans had recently decided it would be cool to live together in really crowded conditions – but hadn’t yet invented sewers – millions died from infectious diseases and plagues. It’s not as if the absolute human lifespan was any shorter than it is now. There just happened to be a lot more obstacles getting in the way of a decent lifespan.
Going back further, the earliest humans had to concern themselves with such pleasantries as ice storms and mammoths, and pesky campfire annoyances such as marauding wolves and tigers with four-inch teeth. But provided you (you’re now my proverbial early human) didn’t fall off a cliff, starve for lack of roots and berries, or become lunch for a predator, you could live a nice, long life not unlike people today. Those ice age ancestors were – to borrow a tech phrase – extremely robust. In fact, more than most of us today.
Which brings me to people today. We don’t have to worry about the elements, the animals, or starving to death (in this country, anyway). And it gets better: we don’t have to stress too much over broken limbs, infections and epidemics. The flu killed 50 million people just a few generations back. Now it typically kills a few thousand people every year – not a happy number, but certainly an improvement. However, I don’t think our high success rate, defined in terms of the majority of people making it to their 70s, is much of a success. I don’t want to “make it” – I want to relish every second. We “make it” by hobbling along with multiple drugs and surgeries, but are we really doing any better than the folks of yesteryear who had to deal with beriberi and scurvy? (Deficiency, by the way, is a problem right here in the United States, right now.)
We’re living longer, on average, but are we living better?
We have tremendous potential to harness our critical intelligence, myriad resources and powerful knowledge into a truly healthy society. But something’s been lost in translation. And the past, as represented in our DNA, offers clarity. As my contractor friends say, “When in doubt, refer to the blueprints.”
While I’m not advocating a diet of slimy grubs and still-steaming flesh, it is clear that humans evolved following some basic parameters:
- Diet: mostly raw, always whole, generally fresh foods.
Modern translation: meat, seafood, eggs, berries, roots, fruits, nuts and greens.
- Exercise in spurts: occasional cardio, but mostly walking, pushing, pulling, heaving, and hauling.
Modern translation: resistance training, weight-bearing activity, hiking, sports, yoga, stretching, pilates, walking.
- Appropriate stress response: “fight or flight” kept early humans alive and kicking (often literally).
Modern translation: address the stress of commutes, bills, and teenagers sensibly, because your body still thinks it’s fighting those mammoths, tigers, and wolves.
That’s how our DNA blueprints were drafted and, like it or not, that’s what our bodies still expect of us. How we choose to “adapt” to those primal instructions can determine whether we thrive and enjoy a long fulfilled life or whether we start down that slippery slope towards illness, depression and dependency.
In the coming weeks, I’ll address each of these issues specifically, offering my perspective, practical applications, and helpful references (including, of course, insightful scientific studies). Taking a walk on the primal side is actually incredibly easy, intuitive and natural. And I’ll show you how.
What are your thoughts? What lifestyle works best for you?
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