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When discussing diet, lifestyle and health people often bring up the issue of life expectancy.

Will eating/not eating this or that, or following a particular way of life increase your time on this planet, or cut it short?

There is also debate about whether life expectancy is now longer or shorter than previous eras?  Did our ancestors avoid chronic disease because their life expectancy was shorter and they didn’t have time to get ill?

Life expectancy is based on an average of the ages at which the people of a population die, and it is true that modern life expectancy is longer than ever before.  The current average life expectancy in the UK is 80, whereas estimated life expectancy in the Palaeolithic era was only 33.

It’s my 30th birthday today – Does this mean that if I were a hunter-gatherer, I’d be on my last legs, ready to pop my clogs at any time?

Well, no not really.  Chances are, if I were a 30 year old caveman, I’d be considerably stronger, fitter, and healthier than I am now, that’s despite the fact that I am stronger, fitter and healthier than 99% of my contemporary Neoliths!

What people fail to realise is that our increased life expectancy is mainly due to decreased infant mortality rates. Our ancestors did not get to give birth in a nice hospital, with a team of doctors and nurses, medical equipment and drugs.  They’d have to give birth squatting under a tree!  The first couple of years were not easy and unfortunately the majority of babies would not make it out of infancy.  These high death rates drastically brought down the average age of the population.

In addition to this, during the Palaeolithic era there was no emergency medicine, ambulances or life saving surgery techniques.  If you got wounded or had a nasty accident you had pretty much had it.  Even something we would today consider minor such as a broken leg could spell the end as you wouldn’t be able to hunt or flee from danger.

People therefore are not living longer because they are healthier or have better lives, we have just become more adept at preventing them from dying!

Which brings me back to the subject of existence expectancy.  We have become a society obsessed with statistics.  Governments and the media often tout our ever increasing life expectancy rates as evidence of our societies progress and superiority.

I would argue, however, that there is a big difference between avoiding death, and actually living, and that avoiding death for 80 or 100 years, is nothing to brag about.

Yes, it is true that a much larger percentage of the population is now still breathing at age 70, but what sort of life are they living?  A hunter gatherer that avoided fatal injury or infection and made it to the ripe old age of 70 would still be able to shimmy up a tree to gather coconuts, and hunt his own food.  Many modern 70 year olds struggle to get up the stairs, let a lone climb a tree!

It is my opinion that people are existing for longer, but they are not living longer. To me, being alive means being able to go anywhere and do anything – To feel good, happy and energised. Too many people today are simply surviving, often in pain, discomfort or boredom. This is no way to live.

I don’t follow a Primal lifestyle and diet because I want to increase my time on the planet – I follow this lifestyle because I want to take full advantage of whatever time I do have.

The largest studies on diet and lifestyle such as the Framington Study and the Nurses Health Study found that dietary interventions actually made very little difference to the age at which people died (though of course none of them were following a paleo type diet), and the only proven way to extend your life through diet is caloric restriction which causes depression and irritability, great!

I train hard and eat paleo because I want to live life to the full.  I want to be able to climb mountains, swim in the sea, sprint, jump and throw.  I want to wake up in the morning feeling good, happy and energised.  On my 70th birthday I want to be able to climb that palm tree and get that coconut!

Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post of interest. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below, or feel free to tweet me at @Simon_Whyatt

4 comments

  1. Well put. The argument that cavemen died young is the naysayers last fallback, and it doesn’t hold water. Thanks for laying things out so clearly.

    1. Good find Rachel – let’s hope for some compressed morbidity eh!

      I definitely think we have greater potential for a long AND healthy life than ever before. It’s getting the balance right between taking advantage of all the modern advances in healthcare, medicine, etc, while making wise choices as to where to avoid the less healthy aspects of modernity such as the option of a sedentary lifestyle, unlimited access to high calorie processed foods and too much facebook… 😉

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