Move like a Hunter Gatherer in the Modern World

In Part 1 of my hunter-gatherer series, “Eating like a Hunter-Gatherer in the Modern World.” I talked about why it’s essential to look into our past to know how we should live in the world today.

Not read the previous post? Go there now!

Now I want to talk more about movement. You know, the unique ability we all have to get ourselves from point A to point B. Or throwing a ball with a family member. 

You might assume that our modern moving abilities are the same, if not better than those of our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers. What if I told you that we’d lost some critical movements? What if I told you that we could stay healthy and mobile further into older age by mimicking our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ movements? 

Let me explain. 

Please note that this post is a personal exploration of the potential benefits of learning from history. By no means is it a prescription, and by no means am I a doctor. When making any changes in your life, ensure you discuss them with your doctor. Many of the situations are theorized and hard to prove, but I’ve used logic to discern the facts.

Going back in time

If we travel back to the days where most of the humankind was nomadic, we would have found highly active and mobile bodies. You would be hard-pressed to find chronic back issues and wonky knees. 

Sure, there would have been traumatic injuries that would most likely lead to death, but overuse injuries like runners’ knees, would have been rare, if not non-existent. What makes me say that? Well, humans would have died out if that was the case. No movement equals no food.

But what about everyday life? What would a hunter-gatherer do from sunup to sundown?

Well, as we found in Part I of this 3 part series, most of the day would have centered around food, and more specifically, the gathering of food. 

Plants

If we were taking plants from the land, we would need movement to go both low down and up high. Digging roots up from the ground requires crouching, picking berries requires agility, and picking fruit from trees requires a high reach or climbing.

If we wanted to gather foods that grew up high on trees or cliff edges, we would need movement to climb up or create tools to help us reach them. These movements helped our ancestors gather enough food for the tribe to survive. 

Meats

Tracking down animals to eat would have been no easy task. Hunts would consist of extended tracking missions across far stretches of terrain to tire out the animal by keeping it moving. Other kills would have included many tribespeoples working together to use force and numbers to bring down larger prey. 

These two hunting tactics show a tremendous athletic ability, both in endurance and strength. 

Humans are also Prey

Indeed, humans would have had predators, and any encounter with these predators would have likely ended in a massive amount of energy exertion by the hunter-gatherers. Modern psychological terminology uses the term “flight or fight”; and that’s precisely the decision that would have been in a hunter-gatherer’s head when faced with a risky or dangerous situation. 

Movement in the modern world

Think about your daily life. Are you spending most of the time sitting at a desk, driving a car, binging the latest Netflix series, sitting down for meals at a table –how do they even compare to our ancient ancestors? 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that all those activities are sedentary and far from our ancestral past. 

If you’re part of the more “active” community, you may feel like you’ve accomplished your daily movement or fitness goals after an hour-long run or a 20 min HIIT or a 45 min Zumba class. 

While these are all great things to do to move your body, my point is that this “modern” movement still doesn’t align with the frequency or the way our ancestors moved. 

What’s missing in the modern world?

“Movement”

Most of the day, we are passive or in a static position (sitting) which reduces blood flow and locks our joints into one place. 

When we’re stuck in one position like this for a long time, our muscles take that position and optimize it. What else would an intelligent brain do? If you train your body to sit in a chair, it’s going to become the best at…sitting in a chair! 

Hunched back, rounded shoulders, a tilted pelvis, rotated hips –these are all symptoms of sitting in one position for long periods.

Once we start adding movement back into our lives, we can unstick ourselves from these static positions and gain a healthy, mobile body again. 

How to Move like a Hunter-Gatherer

The number one rule is to move! Stay active. 

That doesn’t mean run for 30 mins a day and remain immobile the rest of the day. It means light movement throughout the whole day. 

Here are a few tips to help along the way. 

  • Take the active option in your daily life. I.e. take the stairs, park further from the store, walk instead of drive.
  • If you haven’t moved for 20 minutes, get up and do jumping jacks or burpees (set a timer if you need reminding)
  • Constantly be changing your work environment.
    • Use a laptop lying on the floor.
    • Sit at a coffee table.
    • Work at a standup desk.
  • Instead of sitting down after lunch, head for a quick 10-minute walk. It’ll help blood sugar control and give you more energy for the afternoon.
  • If you’re taking a call, get up and walk around. Even better, get outside and take a call. Fresh air never hurt anyone.
  • Create a home-based morning commute. It may sound stupid at first, but walking outside in the morning sun (or rain) will energize you and lift your mood before starting work.

If you want to incorporate intense exercise once or twice a week, go ahead! It’s like a lion is chasing you!

All of this information isn’t new-age stuff or some hippy advice. Incorporating movement into our daily routine is what science recommends. Our lives should be filled with action. The point of this post is to help you draw parallels from modern science to ancient behaviors, so you can understand that continuous, light movement is the key to health. 

Remember, if you want to be healthy AND mobile. Act like a hunter-gatherer.

Next up, Fast like a Hunter-Gatherer in the Modern World! Because fasting is rooted in history and modern science.

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Nick
Nick helps aspiring runners learn how to take a healthful approach to their training and races so they don’t crash and burn before they achieve their goals.
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