n South African Journal of Sports Medicine - Hunter-gatherer fitness - implications for health : editorial

Volume 23, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1015-5163
  • E-ISSN: 2078-516X



A recent thought-provoking paper compared modern lifestyle to the lifestyle of our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers. There is a distinct contrast to the low levels of physical activity in modern times compared with when our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers, expending large amounts of energy while they obtained food and water, maintained their shelters and escaped from predators. The genes governing the characteristics required for this lifestyle were passed on for approximately 84 000 generations which spanned this period. This, however, is not a long time from an evolutionary perspective. Consider, for example, that the agricultural revolution, during which time food became more readily available, occurred about 350 generations ago, the industrial revolution about seven generations ago and the digital age about two generations ago. Each phase of development placed less emphasis on the necessity for superior physical ability for survival and success. For example, hunter-gatherers covered about 6 - 16 km per day, with daily energy expenditure for physical activity of 800 - 1 200 kcal - this is 3 - 5 times more than that of the average modern-day American. Despite the physical demands of modern-day lifestyles being less than it was several generations ago, the physiological and metabolic characteristics of humans in 2011 are still wired to deal with the physical demands of the hunter-gatherer era, where the norm was to have a high level of energy expenditure. This manifests as modern-day diseases such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke - diseases which all have a link to low habitual physical activity.

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