Nonindustrial societies, including indigenous communities in South America, have some of the lowest rates of heart and brain disease ever observed in human populations. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has explored the lifestyle of two indigenous societies in Bolivia, the Tsimané and Mosetén, to determine the levels of exercise and food consumption that may be optimal for a healthy heart and brain.
Nonindustrial lifestyles tend to reflect the environments experienced by humans throughout our evolutionary history and can give us important clues about how modern life may negatively impact our health. While industrialization has made life easier, to has also allowed greater access to food and required less exercise than ever before in human history, leading to epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and more. To better understand how modern lifestyles may negatively impact our health, researchers from USC measured the brain volumes of 1,165 Tsimané and Mosetén adults along with their body mass indices, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other health markers.
They found that members of both societies experienced lower rates of brain atrophy and greater cardiovascular health than average adults in the U.S. and Europe. Brain atrophy, as measured by brain volume, is correlated with diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Cardiovascular health is a key determinant of overall health, and heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. and the world.
These findings reflect how the lifestyles of the Tsimané and Mosetén mirror the lifestyles of our ancestors over the vast majority of human history. As one of the authors noted, humans evolved in a food-scarce environment, and most humans in the past had to exercise vigorously and regularly in order to acquire food. Modern humans have access to nearly limitless food with very little need to exercise, but we still experience evolutionary drives to consume high-calorie foods and conserve our energy. This contradiction leads us toward high rates of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. While industrialization has made life easier for humans, it may not optimize our health.
Sources: PNAS, EurekAlert