Daily physical activities of the evolutionary lifestyle

If we are to try and get our bodies some of the physical stimuli they had through an evolutionary lifestyle, then we need to understand in a quite detailed way how our ancestors moved. I have tried to summarize below the most salient features, based on a numerous sources. I have indicated at the end of this article a few references that I think are the best if you want to dig further into this topic.

Frequent physical activities

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors moved a lot, but not by choice and certainly with the goal of “training”. Their daily subsistence and survival required them to complete many activities, most of them physical, and so they did it. Here are most of their regular activities:

  • hunting (males)
  • gathering (females), including digging for underground tubers
  • building/maintaining shelter
  • cooking
  • parenting
  • moving between camps or moving the camps
  • tools manufacturing
  • defending against predators/enemies and fleeing

These activities are the backbone of their total physical movements. We’ll see shortly what exact movement patterns are included within each activity but there are already two important points to note:

  • Differentiation between males and females: there is a clear and nearly universal (there are a couple of exceptions) differentiation between males and females. Males do the hunting, Females do the gathering/digging/most parenting.
  • Wide variability in how these activities are conducted: there is a very wide variability in the proportion of these activities within the total physical stimuli across hunter-gatherers groups AND there is also a wide variability in the patterns within each activity. We can infer some general directions and trends, but there is almost no use trying to nail down the specifics of each activity as they varied based on the different habitats and climates where hunter-gatherers lived.
  • Zero energy/time dedicated to “working out” as we currently understand it: energy was scarce and you never spent it uselessly. All physical activity was accomplished through practical and necessary tasks.

Movement requirements through each activities’s Environmental & Situational Demands

Using the concepts of Environmental and Situational Demands previously introduced, we can characterize each activities’s movement patterns. The Situational Demands are obviously mostly based on the tasks required to complete each activity, so we’ll break down each activity into its Tasks, Situational Demands (apart from Tasks) and Environmental Demands.

Patterns emerging

Each activity is detailed thereafter. If you want to get the actionable patterns emerging though, here they are summarized.

  • Walking daily in a quite (but very varied) volume. Some put the average daily range between 6kms and 16kms. No matter the exact number, a high volume of walking is certain. Walking without load was required but most often it was with load.
  • There are intense and hard days, but they are followed by easier days. Easier days still have a high amount of physical expenditure but are less intense.
  • Manipulating objects, tools, food was an integral part of each day’s movements. So lots of hand manipulation and pushing, pulling on objects with the arms.
  • Lifting and carrying loads done through almost all activities, for a wide range of loads.
  • When out of camp, the terrain is a wild setting: highly varied, complex to navigate, requiring frequent transitions between different modes of locomotion (walk, crawl, climb, swim for some).
  • When hunting or fleeing, sudden burst of highly intense, all-out efforts with no warmup or warning.

Hunting

Tasks

Depending on styles:

  • Long walks without weight at a normal or high pace
  • Walking in dense vegetation: need to duck under branches, step over branches, crawl in various ways
  • Sprints, from very small distance to nearly 1km
  • Throwing weapons
  • Climbing trees, boulders (point of view, approach) and steep hills
  • Carrying weights back to camp after a kill

Situational Demands

  • Permanent awareness of surroundings necessary for hunt and predators evasion
  • Hunting not done every day, but mostly every other day (huge variety on this obviously)

Environmental Demands

  • Terrain is varied and complex
  • Some previous knowledge of terrain but necessary to adapt instantly to changing features (natural environment is always evolving obviously)

Gathering/Digging

Tasks

  • Long walks without weight at normal pace
  • Long walks with weight (gathered plants or carrying children)
  • Walking in dense vegetation: need to duck under branches, step over branches (less so than for hunting)
  • Wide variety of upper body reaching movements with fine hand moves, all obviously done on a high volume and being repetitive
  • Lowering to the ground and high volume of repetitive digging motions

Situational Demands

  • Permanent awareness of surroundings necessary for hunt and predators evasion
  • Done in groups, socialization is ongoing
  • Gathering not done every day but every other day mostly (huge amount of variety)

Environmental Demands

  • Terrain is varied and complex
  • Some previous knowledge of terrain but necessary to adapt instantly to changing features (natural environment is always evolving obviously)

Building/Maintaining shelter

Tasks

  • Carrying large weights (rocks, logs) and variously shaped loads as materials
  • Object manipulation, large and small loads
  • Fine hand moves to combine materials
  • Variety of moves close to the ground: picking up, pushing, sliding, etc.
  • Variety of reaches, especially overhead, to combine materials (roof, etc.)

Situational Demands

  • in the context of camp, socialization is a demand

Environmental Demands

  • in camp

Cooking

Tasks

  • Preparing carcasses, vegetables, etc.: lots of repetitive and strenuous hand movements
  • Carrying small to average loads

Situational Demands

  • in camp: socialization

Environmental Demands

  • in camp: socialization

Parenting

Tasks

  • Carrying young kids (females)
  • Nursing, feeding (females)
  • Teaching skills
  • Protecting when outside of camp

Situational Demands

  • Need to react to unexpected behavior of kid both in camp and outside
  • Permanent awareness of surroundings necessary for hunt and predators evasion when out of camp

Environmental Demands

  • familiar and controlled when in camp
  • similar to each activities when out of camp teaching kids

Moving (between) camps

Tasks

  • Long (20kms to 100kms) walks with minimal loads to visit other camps
  • Same long walks with loads when bartering with other camps
  • Multi-days walks with heavy loads when changing camps

Situational Demands

  • mostly of the tasks but important parameter here is unpredictability of weather: those walks had to be adapted based on weather changes encountered

Environmental Demands

  • Terrain is varied and complex
  • Some previous knowledge of terrain but necessary to adapt instantly to changing features (natural environment is always evolving obviously)

Tools manufacturing

Activity profile similar to cooking

Defending against predator/enemies or fleeing

Activity profile similar to hunting, apart from long walking movements.

References

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