(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States, and a sedentary lifestyle is often cited as a major contributing factor. Among the Tsimane, an indigenous population in the lowlands of Bolivia's Amazon basin, however, indicators of heart disease are practically non-existent cholesterol is low, obesity is rare, and smoking is uncommon.
That's according to researchers at UC Santa Barbara and the University of New Mexico, who have been studying hunter-gatherers and forager-horticulturists to understand how their physical activity levels are affected by modernization; whether that, in turn, has increased the incidence of obesity, hypertension, and other conditions related to heart disease; and how their findings might apply to adults in the U.S. Their research is highlighted in an article published today in the journal PLoS ONE.
The simple answer, according to Michael Gurven, professor of anthropology at UCSB and lead author of the study, is that physical activity alone or lack thereof does not relate to obesity or body fat among the Tsimane, and despite a subsistence lifestyle, activity alone is unlikely to account for their relative absence of chronic disease. As Gurven noted, the research demonstrates that, although a high level of physical activity may be important in staving off heart disease and diabetes, it's unlikely to be the "magic bullet" that explains why a group like the Tsimane maintains a healthy chronic disease profile.
"Indigenous populations like the Tsimane are very physically active," said Gurven, who is also director of UCSB's Integrative Anthropological Sciences Unit and the Broom Demography Center's Biodemography and Evolution Unit. "There are people who think physical activity alone is enough to have a healthy heart. They assumed the Tsimane activity level was equal to running a marathon every day. But we did the analysis, and they aren't."
|Contact: Andrea Estrada|
University of California - Santa Barbara