To improve our personal and collective wellbeing, consideration must be given both to the Palaeolithic physiology we have inherited, as well as to aspects of the Palaeolithic mind-set that still influence us in the 21st century. We work with the concept of ‘Health-Behaviours’ initiated by the epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll. Developed during the Alameda County Study where a cluster of lifestyle factors were related over time to a higher or lower risk of death, and thus ’Positive’ and ‘Negative’ health habits were subsequently identified (Gardner 2011).
Lifestyle choices are moulded by a complex of cultural, economic and societal influences. The research developed for our Eden Protocol project integrates studies concerning physiological, metabolic and psychological factors relating to nutrition, activity regimes and social interactions. Our project identifies and promotes dietary advice, reflecting views where human evolutionary science, nutritional science and UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) concur.
Activity regimes also need constant promotion: walking to work as much as more strenuous sports are as good for the mind as the all too-often sedentary body of a modern city dweller. A study in the Lancet published in July 2012 suggests that the alarming increase in physical inactivity (a consequence of urbanisation) has a major health effect worldwide. It quotes the following figures: “…physical inactivity causes 6% of the burden of disease from coronary heart disease, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer, and 10% of colon cancer”. It concludes that of the 57 million deaths that occurred worldwide in 2008, the deaths of more than 5·3 million, persons could have been averted by regular exercise (Lee et al 2012).
A wide evolutionary perspective has been used to provide the provisional template for the normal ‘Positive Personal Health-behaviour’ listed here. While fresh air, diet and exercise regimes traditionally rate highly on most “healthy life-style” listings, the evolutionary basis for their inclusion if all too often overlooked. The wide range of factors included demonstrates the extent of the physiological and metabolic and attributes retained from our Palaeolithic ancestry (nos 1-5), our emotional engagement with nature (6) while psychological and social issues, including the importance of music, are considered in nos 7 to 11.
- Being physically active;
- Having a diet that includes fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish and lean meat
- Having a diet that excludes too many cereal-based foods or sugar;
- Avoiding smoking;
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Active engagement with the ‘natural world’ (eg pets/gardening/bird-watching)
- Having a supportive household;
- Having supportive social networks
- Feeling socially-included;
- Enjoying or playing music;
- Being challenged/ taking risks/ exploring
A template for abnormal ‘Negative Personal Health-behaviour’ from this evolutionary perspective would therefore include the eleven converse habits. Following further research, additional factors could be added, proxy behaviours suggested, and a prioritised ordering imposed. With appropriate development, these templates can be utilised for cohort or longitudinal studies to test their significance and effectiveness, and subsequently for practical guidelines promoting wellbeing in a holistic manner.
The official advice on nutrition and exercise provided by the UK’s own Chief Medical Officer of Health is broadly in accord with the first five of these “Personal Health Behaviours”: indeed the considerable research that underpins NHS Guidelines thus vindicates our premise in this regard. Medical and nutritional science has demonstrated what is best for our metabolism and physiology: archaeology have shown why our bodies require such regimes: our physiology remains stubbornly Stone-age in spite of the technological advances that surround us.
Department of Health 2011 Healthy Lives, Healthy People: a Call to Action on Obesity
Gardner, B & Wardle 2011 ‘The Role of Health Behaviour’ in A Steptoe (ed) Health Psychology Lee, I-Min, et al (2012) ‘Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy’, The Lancet, 380, 9838, pp 219-229