The developing understanding of Human Health and Fitness: A Canadian perspective. 1. Prehistory: inferences from the lifestyle of indigenous peoples.
This paper is the first in a series of articles looking historically at the developing scientific interest in human health and fitness, with particular reference to the Canadian scene. This initial contribution considers available evidence on patterns of physical activity, fitness levels and health status during prehistory (the Paleolithic, Mesolithis and Neolithic Eras), drawing upon available information from archaeology, oral tradition, art, written histories, and the recent status of isolated communities thought to have conserved much of their traditional lifestyle. Current information supports the hypothesis that while a hunter-gatherer, Homo sapiens adapted genetically to a life requiring periods of sustained endurance activity. In more recent years, a number of indigenous populations in Canada and elsewhere have still encountered periods when their survival depended upon high levels of energy expenditure during various types of hunting. Moreover, such activity was often supplemented by traditional games that provided recreation, maintained fitness and propitiated the Gods. In 1969-70, Inuit from the small arctic community of Igloolik offered one example of a continuing hunter-gatherer lifestyle; hunting expeditions demanded expenditures of 15.4 MJ/day, and the population demonstrated associated high levels of aerobic fitness and muscular strength with a low body fat content. However, the need for vigorous physical activity in isolated communities had decreased rapidly with acculturation to the lifestyle of modern society. Fitness levels have decreased, with growing evidence of adverse health effects, particularly a rising prevalence of diabetes mellitus. Preventive tactics to address these trends include the promotion of territory-wide "native" or "white" sports competitions and (perhaps most effectively) the encouragement of recreation and the consumption of country foods within local communities.
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