Five myths about a healthy lifestyle
From time to time I get into the hands of books, the content of which I want to share with everyone, writes in a blog for VOA Tatyana Vorozhko. The latest finding was the book The History of the Human Body, a professor of evolutionary human biology at Harvard University, Daniel Lieberman.
In it, from the standpoint of evolution, he tries to answer the question: Why are our bodies as they are? Why do so many people in developed countries suffer from diseases that were not common even 100 years ago - certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, allergies, depression, insomnia, and others? And what is the best way to take care of your body, given millions of years of evolution, to stay healthy for as long as possible?
Some of the professor's conclusions are contrary to popular beliefs regarding a healthy lifestyle. Like any publication or research, these theses are not the ultimate truth, but, despite the position and scientific degree of its author, I think they are worth reading. Also, like any other myths, these five are not necessarily inherent in every person on the planet, but I have met them, and I myself was convinced of the veracity of some of them - until I got acquainted with the work of Professor Lieberman.
1 Myth: Veganism and vegetarianism are beneficial because humans evolved to eat vegetables and fruits.
The human body is perfectly adapted for the consumption of meat and fish. Moreover, we are what we are, precisely because we started eating meat. The genus Homo has existed for several million years and, according to archaeological finds, for at least 2.6 million years, man (then even more like a monkey) ate meat - first raw and then thermally processed.
The earliest human ancestors had a small brain and a large digestive system, because digesting plant foods requires a lot of energy. As soon as we started consuming meat, which is a more efficient source of energy than fruits and roots, very slowly stomachs, intestines and other digestive organs began to shrink and the brain began to grow. In Australopithecus Lucy (finds in Ethiopia of a part of the skeleton dated 3.2 million years ago), the brain weighed only 450 grams. A modern person, even those who write stupid comments under articles, have 1300-1400 g brains.
At the same time, our teeth and jaws became smaller, incisors appeared, and the muscles in the lower part of the face also decreased - in my opinion, we became more attractive. Our predecessors had more free time - to paint the cave or make a spearhead. And it was also the hunting and division of labor that appeared as a result that required greater coordination between members of the tribe, which, in turn, contributed to the development of cognitive abilities (brains grew).
Of course, this does not mean that vegans and vegetarians from the lack of meat will begin to draw guts and shrink brains. Such changes will require hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. In addition, domesticated vegetables and fruits are a better source of energy than wild ones.
“Just because we have evolved to eat meat does not mean that we should eat meat. In general, vegetarians live longer, ”Professor Lieberman wrote to me, to whom I turned for an explanation of what to do now for vegans. “There is nothing wrong with being vegan or vegetarian, but I believe raising children as vegans is dangerous,” he added.
Myth 2: Fresh and juices are useful.
Eating an apple is many times healthier than juice made from it or even fresh juice made with your own hands. Fruits contain glucose and fructose (about half of the latter is converted by the liver into glucose). The body really needs glucose - without it, cells, including the brain, die. But too much glucose is harmful. The brain and pancreas constantly monitor blood glucose levels using the hormone insulin. However, the body has not adapted to the fact that quickly release just as much insulin as needed. Fruits weren't as sweet as they are now, and cakes didn't exist 2000 years ago, let alone juices and Pepsi-Cola. If a lot of glucose comes in at once, then more insulin is released than necessary. More glucose is stored as fat, and persistently elevated insulin levels lead to type 2 diabetes.
Glucose from an apple is processed more efficiently, because it goes slower and the body has the ability to release the optimal amount of insulin and use it, and not hide it in a panic in fat. Glucose in it is tied in fiber, which, firstly, slows down the rate of processing of carbohydrates into sugars and the transport of calories to the blood and organs, but speeds up the passage of food through the intestines, gives a feeling of satiety. So, put your juicer aside - wash your apple or pear.
By the way, children also need to chew. Although there is nothing wrong with cereals, soups or mashed potatoes, keeping children on a liquid diet is not worth it. "The mechanical forces generated by chewing food not only help develop the correct jaw shape and size, but also help develop the correct shape of individual teeth," Lieberman writes. He suggests that children chew sugar-free gum to avoid visits to the orthodontist, although he notes that there is still no scientific evidence for this suggestion.
But when I share with him my newfound theory that semolina porridge and other “baby food” that I hated as a child may be the reason for my high expenses on the dentist, he immediately rejects it. "Tooth decay is the result of eating foods high in starch and sugar," the professor recalls.
Myth 3: Sports is the best way to lose weight.
The professor pays attention to how few calories we lose when we go in for sports and hard physical labor. On the day of this writing, I ran a little more than 5 km and burned up calories to 324, which corresponds to the caloric content of three bananas or 1 buns. And when a person suddenly spends a lot of energy, he releases a stress hormone cortisol, from which a person becomes hungry. The body perceives this situation as a signal that it was necessary to run away from a predator, and appropriate mechanisms are launched. And if you exercise at the expense of sleep, then there will be more harm than good, because lack of sleep contributes to the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin. I think that everyone has seen builders and other workers engaged in hard physical labor with their bellies.
“You can lose weight through physical activity, but it takes a lot of effort and time,” a professor wrote to me, and I asked him how to deal with extra pounds. - The diet works much faster. However, physical activity is critical to maintaining a healthy weight. In any case, whether you need to lose weight or not, physical activity has significant benefits. "
The benefits of physical activity are the bulk of the book. We have evolved to lead an active lifestyle. True, researchers express certain doubts about the benefits of an extremely active lifestyle - an ultramarathon, the Iron Man competition.
By the way, it is no less useful for girls to do sports in childhood than boys. And they have one additional need. No, this is not a slim figure. This is osteoporosis, which affects more than 30% of women and 10% of men over the age of 50. This is because, Lieberman explains, the level of estrogen in a woman's body after menopause decreases much faster than in men (in men, testosterone is converted into estrogen). Estrogen, among other things, turns off the activity of cells that excrete bone mass and turns on the activity of cells that build it. So, due to its lack, the bones become thin and porous.
A large bone mass grows in childhood, in girls - until puberty. And those who are actively involved in sports have time to form a strong skeleton. Everyone loses bone mass in adulthood, but if you have more, then you suffer less from the consequences of this process, explains Lieberman.
Myth 4: Long-distance running is a separate sport that is not suitable for everyone.
Over millions of years, the human body has evolved from being comfortable to climb trees, walk and run long distances. As soon as our ancestors stood on their hind legs, they ran. Lieberman points to the adaptation of the body just for a long run: we can cool ourselves in motion through sweating the entire surface of the skin, so the fur does not interfere (other mammals, the same dogs need to stop, go to bed and often breathe to reduce body temperature) toes, a comfortable form of the foot for running, and the gluteus muscles of the body work during the run. But in the sprint, even a domestic cat will make a mockery of us.
Lieberman shares the theory that our ancestors, before they had spears with a sharp tip, hunted by the method of exhaustion by animals - they chased the hog for hours until the unfortunate dies from fatigue and heatstroke.
5 Myth: Healthy sleep requires total silence and darkness.
About 10% of people in developed countries suffer from insomnia, and even more - do not sleep enough, which worsens health and leads to numerous negative health consequences. To the well-known reasons - stress, the opportunity to spend time interestingly after dark, alcohol - Lieberman adds one more thing - how we sleep.
Sleeping alone or with one partner in the absence of any sensory stimuli is a relatively new way of doing this. Falling asleep, when the human brain goes through several phases of light sleep before falling deeply asleep, writes Lieberman, is an adaptation mechanism. A person woke up, heard the snoring or snoring of his fellow tribesmen, the howling of hyenas in the distance, the sounds of a cricket, felt the touch of children and relatives, made sure that everything was in order, and fell asleep again. Complete silence meant that something catastrophic had happened: “maybe my friends didn’t appreciate my joke with fire and left me alone in the cave? !!”. Society today lives in accordance with true traditional values and does not maintain complete silence in order to lull the baby. Fall asleep in his arms during tribal dances by the fire, and good.
And a bonus - information that has nothing to do with a healthy lifestyle, but I found it very interesting. A woman who has lost weight - even half a kilogram in a month - will find it difficult to become pregnant within a month. This is not an effective method of preventing pregnancy, but for those who dream of children, I think it will be useful to pay attention to this factor.
The original column is published on the website. Ukrainian service "Voices of America".
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