Evolutionary Fitness is a result of my personal and scientific quest to stay fit and young. It combines my experience as a professional and amateur athlete, and nearly 50 years in the study and practice of fitness, with my scientific interests in evolution and complex adaptive systems. It begins with the premise that our bodies and minds are adapted to an ancient environment that passed more than 10,000 years ago. We evolved as hunter-gatherers over at least three million years and that lifeway shapes our attributes, behaviors, and capabilities as human beings. It is by understanding the hunter-gatherer adaptation and incorporating the activity and eating patterns of our ancestral lifeway with the findings of the best of modern science that we can live a natural and healthy life in a modern world that is very different from the one in which human beings evolved.
Darwin and Fitness
In developing this idea, I take the Darwinian approach that has been so successful in the new fields of evolutionary psychology and medicine and apply it to physical fitness. But, I integrate a Darwinian perspective with the theory of chaos and complex systems. A deeper look at the evolutionary record, the new revelations in the biological sciences, my scientific work in complex systems, and my own personal experience as a life-long student of fitness tell me that the right model for understanding health and fitness must combine insights from evolution and chaos.
Non Linear Systems
When the body is viewed as a complex adaptive system exploiting evolved mechanisms, it becomes clear that conventional thinking about diets and obesity is wrong. The human organism is an open energy system, operating far from equilibrium. Diet and exercise programs that are mired in linear thinking (calories in/calories out) are inappropriate for understanding human energy metabolism. These models oversimplify the diet and fail to consider the non-linearities in human metabolism.
Ancestral Dynamic Patterns
Intermittent, intense, and playful exercise mimics the activity patterns that were essential to the emergence and evolution of the human species. High intensity, intermittent and brief training mixed with power walking and play is closer than aerobic exercise, high volume weight training, or sedentism to how our ancestors lived. We are hunter-gatherers and have been for all of human and pre-human history. Only 15,000 years have passed since the last Ice Age, not long enough for bodies suited for the sedentary modern age to have evolved. If such bodies ever do evolve they cannot have our minds, for the human mind evolved to live in a brain adapted to an energetic, versatile and dynamic body.
Metabolic Fitness from Chaos
The primary objectives for any exercise and diet program must be to counter hyperinsulinemia (chronically elevated insulin) and hypoexertion (wasting the body’s lean mass through inactivity)?these are the number one health risks in Western society. A natural diet, based on the evolutionary record effectively counters hyperinsulinemia. Intermittent, intense exercise in brief spurts promotes hormone drives that quench hyperinsulinemia and build muscle and bone density that keep you young and lean. These alterations in hormone levels and flux elevate your metabolic fitness.
In the book, I shall present new technology for exercise ? power law training ? that produces the hormone drives and metabolism that raises insulin sensitivity and lowers fat producing and muscle wasting hormones. The intermittent pattern of power law training is, in reality, as ancient as life itself. Power law training is the technology consistent with the intermittent and chaotic natural dynamics that science finds in all living things; it matches the rhythm of life itself and is found in the movements of wild animals, healthy heart beats, neuronal dynamics in the brain, and the music of Bach.
The Evolutionary Fitness Diet
The Evolutionary Fitness Diet is simple and nutritious. You eat nutritionly dense foods, that are low in calories and high in fiber and antioxidants. It will end your carbohydrate cravings and raise your energy level which is depleted by the blood sugar/insulin rebound and high serotonin levels promoted by high calorie foods. The diet is high in natural plant fiber, phenols, flavonoids, and phytochemicals, nature’s own cancer-fighting and antioxidant compounds that coevolved with human beings and were always an important part of the hominid diet before the agricultural and industrial revolutions.
The Evolutionary Diet is more than a diet, it is a program that integrates physical activity, food variety, and timing of meals to promote the growth and retention of lean muscle mass and shed fat. According to the research and my own experience, the sophisticated eating patterns of the Evolutionary Fitness Diet provide the anti-aging benefits of severe calorie-restricted diets without the costs.
Our brains and bodies are dynamic objects that thrive on challenge and movement; intermittent intensity brings key adaptations in hormone drives, neurological function, and body composition. The mixture of variety, intermittent intensity, and play of the Evolutionary Fitness program bind perception and kinesthetics to create a dynamic and positive self image which is the reference point on which our knowledge and living are organized. Movement and play build muscle and cognitive maps in the brain and repair the mind/body continuum.
The Big Idea
Your brain and body are evolved for life in 40,000 BC; take care of the hunter gatherer body and mind that you carry in that pin-striped suit.
Outline of the Project
Figuring out how our ancestors lived occupies the first part of the project. Understanding what these ancestral living patterns mean in terms of body/mind processes is the challenge I tackle in the second part of the project. The disease that results from adaptations to modern living patterns is the puzzle I investigate in the third part of the project. Learning to live and eat like it is 40,000 BC while living in this modern world and enjoying what it has to offer is the challenge I take up in the last part of the project.
I am not a “trainer to the stars”, a reformed overeater, or a recovered food addict (the most common types of authors in this genre), but I am a scientist and athlete and a successful example of what I preach. At 71 years of age, I look like a Cro-Magnon ancestor from the Paleolithic: 6? 1?, with a dense and athletic musculature and less than 8% body fat.
Go to his blog and read more!!
See also “Evolutionary Fitness: An Interview with Art De Vany PhD” (T-Nation, 2 Aug 2005) by Chris Shugart.