Today’s most common killer was far less common centuries ago … and for some very good reasons.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, England, and many other countries in the developed world.
Broadly classified as any disorder that affects the heart, it is most associated with cardiovascular disease, which is abnormality of the heart or of the blood vessels that supply it. Both can cause heart attacks or strokes, which indicate that the blood supply is not getting to the brain or the heart.
Common risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and physical lethargy.
Though this wasn’t unknown in the ancient world, it seems to have been far less common, based on the available archeological evidence. It became prevalent only during the past century, in the post Industrial Revolution era.
That doesn’t appear to be a coincidence.
Lifestyle factors in the Stone Age and the Middle Ages didn’t allow for many of the contributing factors of modern illnesses, including heart disease. For example, few had the luxury of a sedentary lifestyle.
People walked to their labor site and for the most part engaged in physical work during the day. It was highly active work, too, that burned calories and allowed most to stay in better physical shape than the average person in the developed world today.
Similarly, diet is another large contributing factor. Until very recently in human history, everyone ate local and organic, because unless you were royalty or otherwise wealthy enough to acquire food from other locations that was the only option available.
There were no processed foods, minimal carbohydrates and fats, and for most people not a lot of meat. Many today would cringe at the lack of variety, but ironically many of our great-great-great-great-great grandparents had a diet healthier than we do today.
Indeed, the caveman diet has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease in as little as three weeks. This is according to research published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study in which participants ate a diet consisting fruit, vegetables, lean meats, unsalted fish, and water, coffee and tea, eliminating alcohol, sugar, fruit juice, beans, pasta, salt, and dairy products, among other items. Within 21 days, some cardiovascular risk factors had been reduced.
How did all of that change? A lot of it came as the result of the Industrial Revolution, which included a side effect of risk factors that encourage heart disease.
Much work was automated, making daily life easier but also decreasing muscle exertion. Who wouldn’t rather put clothes in a washing machine than walk down to the nearest creek and pound stains into submission? Or get in the car to drive to work at a far-away job rather than walk a few miles to the farm?
But the price of that progress has been the sedentary lifestyle that contributes to the proliferation of heart disease. Similarly, the new systems made it possible to create processed foods quickly and cheaply, and those bags of chips and fast-food hamburgers lack the healthy qualities of the Paleo Diet.
Though much has been done to figure out the causes and solutions to heart disease, many of the best options involve returning to an era in which it was rare. That means changing lifestyle factors like diet and exercise to be more in tune with what our caveman ancestors enjoyed.
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