America Is Fat, Inactivity Not to Blame

Despite the nature of their daily routine, research shows that the Hadza people of Tanzania burn as many calories during activity as the typical American adult.

America Is Fat. Inactivity Not to Blame.

America is Fat, Inactivity not to Blame. The Hadza people of Tanzania live in simple grass huts in the middle of the East African savanna, where the men spend their days collecting honey and hunting for game using handmade bows and poison-tipped arrows, and the women comb miles of hilly terrain foraging for berries and greens. These indigenous people often cover 15 to 20 miles a day while they hunt and harvest in the dry desert heat.

Despite the rigorous nature of this daily routine, research shows that the typical American adult burns just as many calories as the Hadza people, despite facing relatively few physical demands throughout the course of the day (sitting at a school/work desk, driving in a car, etc.)

How can the Hadza people be so much more active than we are without burning more calories? Simply put, the Hadza have adapted to the daily routines of their lifestyle, and over time, their bodies have found ways to keep overall energy expenditure in check.

In studying the Hadza people, anthropologist Herman Pontzer and his team of researchers concluded the their bodies have adjusted to the higher activity levels required for hunting and gathering by exerting less energy elsewhere.

"Even for very active people," writes Pontzer, "physical activity accounts for only a small portion of daily energy expenditure; most energy is spent behind the scenes on the myriad unseen tasks that keep our cells humming and our support system working."

He continues, "If the Hadza's bodies somehow manage to spend less energy in those areas, they could easily accommodate the elevated energy demands of hunting and gathering."

If you put the practice of hunting and gathering into an athletic context, you could say that the Hadza are at the peak of their performance—after all, they have been doing it since the beginning of time.

What does this mean for a country in the midst of an obesity epidemic? Pontzer writes, "We're getting fat because we eat too much, not because we're sedentary...If we want to end obesity, we need to focus on our diet and reduce the number of calories we eat."

Athletes can also apply Pontzer's work to their training. When training, it's important to constantly modify your workouts to prevent your body from adapting (learn how to avoid training plateaus). Following this principle will promote your development into a high-performing athlete.

Source: New York Times

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock