The Seven Principles of Hunter-Gatherer Fitness

Fitness is a subject I’m almost afraid to delve into. There’s so many differing opinions, scientific studies, self-proclaimed guru’s, and fads in this space that it can be a daunting task to filter through all the noise. However, our pursuit of a rewilding lifestyle demands that we take a look at fitness. After all, you can’t truly enjoy a hike, visiting the park, going on a hunting trip, afternoon gardening, or a trip to the beach if you’re out of shape. So, let’s take a look at an average day in the life of our pre-agricultural ancestors.

You wake up early on a late summer day to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Around you the rest of your tribe is already getting prepared for the  morning hike. You have a five mile trek ahead of you, and no food reserves to start your day on. No one seems to be in a panic over this fact, and there’s a good reason for that. This is the time of the year the berries on the mountainside come into ripeness. This morning the tribe will be practicing the first two principles of hunter-gatherer fitness: intermittent fasting and low intensity-long duration exercise.

By noon all the berries have been picked clean. You won’t be back to this area until the cold months when it will be time to grow out the berry patch by clearing small trees for firewood and planting hardwood cuttings in the cleared spaces. There are enough berries left over that you will be making a wild ferment later on with some of the others skilled in this art. During the hike everyone spread out and filled satchels with tubers. Everyone is careful to leave a few in the ground. You even take a moment to spread smaller pieces into a wider area for next year. Another group went out to hunt small game which will provide much needed fats and proteins for a later meal. The other group will likely be chasing game to exhaustion, using their superior endurance and coordination to run down the small animals.  This is the next principle of hunter-gatherer fitness: jog for moderate distances. They might have even had to practice the fourth principle towards the end of the hunt, which is to sprint or do some other high intensity-short duration cardio.

Later in the year, the tribe changes its focus to tasks more appropriate to the cooling weather. Fuel must be stored for the coming winter. Felling small trees with hand tools required a great deal of strength, which brings us to the next principle: Moderate strength training. Our ancestors were not pumping iron for hours in the gym, but they did use their muscles intensively once or twice a week. We should all strive to do the same.

As the days grow shorter and the cold sets in, there is little carbohydrate food to be found in your temperate environment. This is the time the tribe shuts down. Smaller prey have gone to ground or face more pressure from other predators. This is the time of the year to conserve energy and stalk big game. With a precious reserve of salt from the nearby ocean, you can make enough Biltong to feed the tribe for a week off a large kill. When you’re not hunting you spend time with the tribe socializing and planning the next year’s activities. Due to limitations of natural resources, everyone goes through a time of low activity and ketosis. Subsisting primarily on animal fats and proteins during the winter months allowed our ancestors to maintain healthy weights effortlessly, even into old age. This is the final principle we will discuss today: Maintain weight by entering ketosis once each year

By studying the habits of our enlightened ancestors, we can better understand our bodies and the steps we can all take to make them more healthy. At this point I should probably make the lawyers in our tribe happy by mentioning that this is not medical advise. You should seek a health professional for any illnesses or injuries. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s list each principle of hunter-gatherer fitness in order:

  • Intermittent Fasting
  • Low Intensity-Long Duration Exercise
  • Jogging Moderate Distances
  • Sprinting
  • Moderate Strength Training
  • Yearly Ketosis
  • Eat Real Food

That last point wasn’t really mentioned in our example from above, but it should have been self evident! The tribe didn’t stop off at a fast food place on the way up the mountainside. I will go into full detail on nutrition in a later post. For now, just think of the things that would have been available to a tribal civilization and try to stick to those foods. Eat lots of pastured meats, fresh vegetables, fermented vegetables, beyond organic fruits, seeds, nuts, and small portions of sprouted or fermented grains and legumes.

Again, I am not qualified to give medical advise in this blog, but I can tell you what worked for me. Remember to consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program. I will be honest. I’m not at the level of fitness I should be at today. I was in great shape two years ago when I discovered these principles. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s tough and I have not devoted the energy to my health I would have liked to since then. So what happened when I applied these seven principles you ask? I immediately realized I was carrying too much weight. I went into a period of ketosis and lost 60 lbs in 45 days! I slowly reintroduced carbs focusing on whole foods and limiting sugars and grains. I took practical steps to walk more. I ran three miles a day four times a week, sprinting at the end. I lifted weights twice a week. That was the best I have ever felt in my life, but “civilized” life got the better of me, and I slipped back into old habits.

I have come to the realization that we should all take immediate steps to improve our fitness and the seven principles of hunter-gatherer fitness is a great guide to get started. It’s not enough though. You will never find the time to go 100% hunter-gatherer while working a day job. That’s why we all need to strive to meet 50% of these benchmarks now, while working to increase our independence for the future. These principles will be much easier to uphold one day when you are the master of your time. So, work to build passive income streams, and follow the principles you can manage today. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Do what you can now, and stay positive. We’re all on this journey to rewilding together.

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