Although many of our cave-dwelling ancestors had short lives, if they were able to survive attacks, accidents and natural disasters, Paleolithic humans were quite capable of living to a ripe old age.
A common argument raised by those who don’t understand the Paleo lifestyle concerns life expectancy. Why would anyone want to live like a caveman, they reason, if it means a shorter life span than what’s considered average today?
There may be some reason for their concern. But averages can be deceiving.
For example, childbirth today is much less hazardous to both the mother and child than it has been at any other time in history. That’s true in large part because medicine has advanced greatly, especially in the past few centuries.
When deaths in childbirth are factored into the equation, the average lifespan of a caveman was indeed far shorter than our own. Similarly, infections that routinely proved fatal for centuries can now be cured with modern medicine.
Current research indicates that a 70-year lifespan has been the norm throughout human history. After six or seven decades, the body starts to break down faster.
Mortality rates are highest at birth and for very young children, and then they decrease thereafter. When deaths from imperiled infancy, youthful misadventure, epidemics and disease are factored out, the caveman’s lifespan was actually very similar to our own.
Skeletal remains indicate that most ancient humans who passed away at a young age did so due to trauma, such as childbirth, animal attacks or falls, which caused damage that could not be repaired as it might be today. In other words, it might be accurate to say that cavemen were often killed young, but they rarely died young.
In a sense, we are in a better position to take advantage of the caveman lifestyle to live longer lives than our ancestors were. As a case in point, studies have shown an undeniable correlation between high-quality diets and lifespan. We’re better equipped to eat well today because we’re less at the mercy of nature and the environment.
Keeping people alive as their bodies begin to break down is also easier now, although one might question whether the quality of life makes that worthwhile. Living longer does not necessarily imply living well.
Many of the benefits of modern medicine are the result of advances in both technology and our knowledge of human anatomy. Given the choice, nobody would undergo Paleolithic surgery voluntarily, even if complicated operations like brain surgery were successfully conducted thousands of years ago.
Perhaps an accurate way to describe the advances we have made in average lifespan is that we have not increased human longevity so much as we have improved our ability to survive, thrive and enjoy a naturally long life.
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