If you want to be healthy, strong and lean, ignore the fitness fads and promises of quick-fixes that dominate commercial gyms across the globe. Instead, look back into our prehistoric past for the right way to achieve your best possible body.
Every day, our hunter-gatherer ancestors walked briskly to gather as much food as they could, ran after prey, carried rocks, water and children long distances and constructed shelters. It was a life dedicated to living until the next day. ‘Survival of the fittest’ has never been a more accurate term than it was then. But in just a few thousand years everything has changed.
Modern life is rubbish
We live in a high-tech, sedentary, overfed, emotionally stressful world. Agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions have eliminated the need for much physical activity – but our genetic make-up hasn’t changed since the Stone Age. We are built to exercise every day, but the modern mentality is to move only when we have to. It is this discrepancy that causes widespread obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Studies show that in the present day, those people who still live as hunter-gatherers burn between 600 and 1,700 calories a day through physical activity, whereas urban populations burn as few as 200 to 300, often indoors on cardio machines or with relatively light weights.
Heart of stone
Returning to an ancestral activity level could eliminate obesity, give us all lean and strong bodies and dramatically reduce disease rates. New analysis in the journal Progress In Cardiovascular Disease says that daily physical activity can substantially alter human genes to improve cardiovascular health, fat burning, immunity, sleep quality and blood pressure.
The good news is that you don’t have to live in a cave in the woods and give up personal hygiene to be happier, healthier and ripped. Here’s what you need to do.
Get out there
Regularly exercise outside, whether it is walking, jogging, intervals or strongman-style exercises. Our ancestors performed all of their ‘training’ – or as they called it, ‘surviving’ – outdoors. Studies show that outdoor exercise will improve mood and motivation even in less than ideal weather. If it is sunny, though, the sunlight will also raise vitamin D levels, which will have a big positive impact on your health.
Increase the weight
Do strength training with heavy loads under a periodisation programme, which means you gradually increase the amount you lift over time, to produce continual gains in strength and muscle mass.
Have an interval training session a few times a week, with bursts of high-intensity training followed by recovery. This improves cardiovascular, pulmonary and muscular fitness.
Flex your body
As part of your everyday exercise routine, include some sort of activity that promotes flexibility: stretching, foam rolling or yoga will all do the job.
Get a training partner or partners. Our ancestors performed much of their strenuous activity in a social setting, which required both competition and co-operation, leading to better results and more enjoyment.
Paleolithic people typically did strenuous activity to secure basic needs and then reaped the benefits of their hard work by taking time to recover.
Get a dog
Dogs were first domesticated during the Stone Age, and you will become more active simply by caring for a canine. Numerous studies have also shown that owning a pet greatly reduces stress levels and increases life expectancy.
Our ancestors performed long ceremonial dances. They also had sex regularly, preferably with a partner. Sex doesn’t burn that many calories but it is good for you. You wouldn’t be here without it, after all.
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One of the world's premier strength coaches, Charles Poliquin has successfully trained professional athletes and Olympians worldwide. Poliquin writes a monthly column for Men's Fitness about how to train as effectively as possible.