Ten thousand years ago, cavemen roamed the land hunting and gathering, ‘surviving’ from day to day with a hand to mouth existence, often going days without proper food and then gorging on the meaty spoils of a successful hunt.
They are often portrayed as wearing shaggy animal hides, armed with rocks or clubs, unintelligent and aggressive. Life expectancy back then was short compared to today (20-30 years maximum) with primitive weapons & lack of medical technology leaving them vulnerable to disease and predators.
However, primitive man in many ways puts modern man to shame. Principally their eating and movement patterns, in comparison to the modern obsession with processed, ‘fast food’ and hours spent seated in front of an electronic box (which more often than not numbs the brain cells and stiffens up the muscles) were far more conducive to a healthy body. In Australia, proof of our modern dis-connect comes with statistics (2016/17) from the Australian government that 28% of Australian adults and 25% Australian children (aged 2-17) are overweight or obese. Scary indeed, especially as these numbers are growing each year.
We are hunters and gatherers by evolution, but nowadays we mostly 'hunt' for the TV remote. There is no substitute for getting out there and moving the body as it was designed for, however, modern society has become stuck in a state of lethargy. So what are we going to do?
Well, we can start by eating better foods, moving more (as our bodies are designed to do), and sleeping as per our natural ‘circadian’ rhythms ’.
Let’s talk about movement first. As hunter-gatherers, humans maintained their strength, endurance, flexibility and vitality through physical and mental stimuli, as provided by the local environment. A day in the life of a caveman usually involved a great deal of walking, some short sprints – away from predators or whilst chasing ‘lunch’ across the plain, jumping, throwing (spears and rocks) and plenty of play time.
Today, the seated work place has become our world. Sitting has been branded the “new smoking” for its supposed public health risks, especially for people with sit-down office jobs. Over the past 15 years or so sitting has been linked with cancer, heart disease and diabetes and even depression. Sedentary lifestyles are the norm. In 2014/15, close to a third of males aged 15 and over were sedentary, accounting for three million male Australians. Thirty five per cent of females aged 15 and over were sedentary, accounting for over three million female Australians. So much inactivity causes the body to ‘freeze up’; the muscles, tendons and ligaments becoming gradually weaker and dysfunctional, leading to many posture related problems.
Let's look now at how modern man can easily incorporate movement as part of daily life; climbing in and out of the car, putting out the washing, picking up your children/ grandchildren, climbing the stairs, washing the windows, walking to the shops, hoovering the carpets, sweeping the deck. In the world of health and fitness, these everyday movements are referred to as 'Primal Patterns' - aka ‘functional exercise’ - and comprise the following seven movements: Squat, Bend, Lunge, Push, Pull, Twist, Gait.
In comparison to a gym based programme, which normally concentrates on fixed machines in a single range of motion, functional exercise is 'multi-planar', meaning your body will better be able to tackle all that life throws at you head on, and if need be sideways/with a twist. Although it is unlikely that you will have to run away from any woolly mammoths any time soon, it is important that you incorporate some reasonably intensive exercise into your weekly routine – ideally to include some or all of the primal patterns mentioned above.
We know then that cavemen walked very long distances, and we can therefore summise that they needed plenty of good healthy food to stay alive. So what did they eat? Mostly it was a meat and potatoes diet in addition to whatever fruits, nuts and vegetables could be found at the time of year. Cavemen ate to fuel their lifestyle and to provide energy to keep moving and hunting and gathering. They did not make eating their lifestyle, as so many of us do now. They did not have a “lunch hour”. They simply ate when they were hungry.
In sharp contrast, modern man has become lazy and spoilt, with food available on every street corner. In fact we now no longer even need to leave the house (which would mean some incidental exercise). We can sit at our computer, order our dinner online, have it delivered to our front door, without having to move around the kitchen whilst preparing food, then throw away the containers, thereby doing away with the need to wash up. It would be wrong to tar everyone with the same brush, as it were, but I wanted to make the point that we have lost sight of the pleasures and benefits of cooking with fresh, healthy ingredients that we source ourselves from local markets; food that has been grown locally without harmful chemicals added to make it taste better, last longer or look more colourful.
If man could eat a healthy diet of wild plants and animals 2.5 million years ago (known as the Paleolithic diet and more popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet or hunter-gatherer diet), then so can we. Centered on commonly available modern foods, the "contemporary" Paleolithic diet consists mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts; and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.
Your mission should you choose to accept it is to go out (today or soon!) and find your local market. No need to become this year’s Masterchef, just a few simple recipes, using lots of basic tasty whole foods, will do. You can walk to the market so getting some exercise and vitamin D (see below), carry back your produce (toning up those arms), and then enjoy some creative time in the kitchen.
The third side of the equation, in our quest to live like a caveman is sleep. Back then, man woke with the sunrise and went to bed with the sunset. This meant a significant period of every 24 hours was spent either asleep or at least resting in the dark, often around a campfire enjoying time with family and friends. Thus our primal friend benefitted from all the recharging processes that happen during the hours of darkness – many physical and mental repairs take place in the body between 10pm and 6am (our bodies follow a daily circadian ‘rhythm’), as well as plenty of healthy social interaction and playtime.
Sleep is key to good health and we can definitely take a leaf out of our ancestor’s book on this. However, the demands of modern society with shift work, peer pressure and often high stress levels all mean this ‘ideal’ is hard to maintain. Listen to your body. Often a good night’s sleep will sort out a tired body and mind; try getting early to bed on week nights for a month and see how much brighter and alert you feel.
Modern life, it seems, gets more and more complicated every day. Every day we have to make a myriad of decisions and it can all feel quite exhausting. However, by deciding to exercise ‘functionally’, eating locally sourced, home cooked food and sleeping more, you will be following an ancient pathway to good health and vitality. Although the leopard skin boots and bow and arrow for your walk to the shops might be going one too step too far.
For more info on Primal Patterns, eating a nourishing wholefood diet, and your own bespoke health and fitness plan, contact email@example.com.
How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy - Paul Chek
Primal Blueprint - Mark Sisson