Hunter-gatherers probably expended between 800 and 1,200 calories per day in physical activity. The average American today, however, expends only a small fraction of this energy -- with the result being that stamina, muscle strength, and flexibility aren't maintained.
According to Yahoo Health:
“What's more, our inactive ways cause us to miss out on yet more healthful habits enjoyed by hunter-gatherers -- socializing and outdoor living ... Human beings lived for eons as hunter-gatherers, so it's not surprising that our bodies are built to thrive under physically demanding conditions outside.”
Just as researchers have uncovered the health benefits of the ancient hunter-gatherer diet, science suggests that following a hunter-gatherer fitness routine may also boost your health. Instead of being sedentary for much of the day and then running for an hour on a treadmill, our ancient ancestors combined lots of walking with regular lifting and short bursts of high-intensity activities.
Unfortunately most of us interested in exercise took an American approach to exercise when Dr. Cooper first popularized exercise in the late 1960s. We took the "more is better" approach and started racking up the miles or hours in the gym or aerobics classes and competing in marathons or triathlons. Turns out that this excessive cardio was likely not much better at improving longevity than being sedentary.
What Does the Research Say About Hunter-Gatherer Fitness?
The idea behind "hunter-gatherer fitness" is to closely emulate the actions that ancient man took on a daily basis. This, researchers say, is what your body is hard-wired for.
As noted in 2010 in The American Journal of Medicine:
"The systematic displacement from a very physically active lifestyle in our natural outdoor environment to a sedentary, indoor lifestyle is at the root of many of the ubiquitous chronic diseases that are endemic in our culture.
The intuitive solution is to simulate the indigenous human activity pattern to the extent that this is possible and practically achievable. Suggestions for exercise mode, duration, intensity, and frequency … [should] focus on realigning our daily physical activities with the archetype that is encoded within our genome."
Likewise, in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, the same group of researchers noted in 2011 that while we still require daily exercises for optimal health, modern-day lifestyles make it so it is no longer a necessity. But since our urge to conserve energy is still intact, this makes a perfect prescription for a sedentary existence:
"The activities required of their day-to-day existence were the only exercises that Stone Age people would have ever needed to do to maintain excellent general fitness. Instincts to conserve energy, strength, and stamina for these obligatory physical efforts conferred survival advantages to the hunter-gatherer. These instincts, still coded for in the genome of modern humans, are now counterproductive in the inactive high-energy milieu in which we live in the 21st century.
Our inborn tendency to choose the path of least resistance while existing in our highly convenient mechanized urban environment means that most Americans rarely, if ever, physically exert themselves anymore, which leads to obesity, poor physical fitness, depression, debility, and disease."
How to Exercise Like a Hunter-Gatherer
The ideal exercise prescription as noted by the researchers would include the following aspects of normal hunger-gatherer living:
|A variety of exercises performed regularly (weight training, cardio, stretching, etc.)||Alternate difficult days with easier days||Exercise outdoors, which helps maintain vitamin D levels and improve mood|
|Interval training sessions performed once or twice a week||Weight training at least twice a week||Walk and run on softer, uneven terrain, such as grass and dirt, possibly barefoot or using "simpler shoes that do not drastically restrict foot motion or alter natural foot strike dynamics"|
|Exercise with a friend to receive social stimulation as well||Ample time for rest after physical exertion||Recreational activities, including dancing and sex|
In general, researchers summed this up by stating:
"Natural selection shaped the human genome not to run marathons or exclusively lift extremely heavy weights but rather to survive and thrive as very active outdoor generalists in the wild."
Sprint 8: The Modern Equivalent of Hunter-Gatherer Activity Bursts
Four years ago, the American College of Sports Medicine issued new guidelines on exercise, stating it must be "tough" in order for you to reap physiological benefits. This may seem confusing to some of you, so let's reiterate a couple of key points you should always keep in mind, namely moderation, and individualization.
Your exercise program should be challenging, as it was for our ancestors, but it should not be excessive and it should be paired with ample time for recovery. Just as too much strenuous exercise can hurt your heart, too little will not be enough to give you the benefits.
In essence, it's the proper intensity combined with the proper duration that is critical for producing optimal results. And the optimal intensity will vary from person to person. This falls in line with the growing research showing the superior health benefits of short bursts of high-intensity exercise as was performed by our ancestors, and one of the most effective ways to perform this is with Sprint 8.
As described in my Sprint 8 program, after a three-minute warm up, you want to raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90 second recovery period. Then repeat that cycle for a total of eight repetitions.
Please note in the video I am performing the Sprint 8 on a recumbent bike, which is a great piece of equipment but I now regularly use an elliptical trainer as I find it easier to achieve my maximum heart rate with less stress.
To perform the intense portion properly, you will want to get very close to, if not exceed, your maximum heart rate by the last interval. Your maximum heart rate is calculated as 220 minus your age. (Keep in mind you'll need a heart rate monitor to measure this as it is nearly impossible to accurately measure your heart rate manually when it is above 150.)
These cycles are preceded by a three-minute warm up and two minute cool down so the total time investment is about 20 minutes, but the actual high-intensity portion totals only four minutes!
This type of exercise will naturally increase your body's production of human growth hormone (HGH) and once you regularly participate in these 20-minute exercises about twice a week, most people notice that it:
- Lowers your body fat
- Dramatically improves muscle tone
- Firms your skin and reduces wrinkles
- Boosts your energy and sexual desire
- Improves athletic speed and performance
- Allows you to achieve your fitness goals much faster
By exercising in short bursts, followed by periods of recovery, you recreate exactly what your body needs for optimum health. The beauty of Sprint 8 exercises is that you don't have to worry about the regular, traditional cardio exercises because you're going to get that (and more) anyway through this program. In fact, Sprint 8 type exercises can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities in a fraction of the time.
This program much more closely replicates the fitness regimen of our ancestors … and when combined with the other facets of the Peak Fitness program -- strength training, stretching and core work -- you'll transform into a strong and lean version of your former self in no time at all.