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The BBC reported yesterday on a study done on the Hadzabe, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, which highlighted that exercise may not be as important as we are lead to believe. The findings of the study would suggest that being overweight is becoming an issue in the West mainly because of overeating, and not just because of a lack of activity. Obviously this is debatable.
Dr Herman Pontzer, an anthropologist at Hunter College New York, commented on the research, saying that initially it was assumed that people following a hunter-gatherer existence would burn much more calories than people with a Western lifestyle. However, the study showed that this was not the cash. When adjustments were made for height and weight there wasn’t much difference between the metabolic rate of the Hadzabe (picture by Sebastien Burel / Shutterstock.com) and adults from Europe or the US.
This would indicate that the science behind energy consumption is much more complicated than we’d like to think. Obviously, and this is supported by Dr Pontzer, doing a healthy amount of exercise is important, however it would appear that it shouldn’t be the focus when we want to lose weight. Essentially, obesity is a problem because many of us are consuming more calories than is needed to perform our day-to-day activities. However, if we were to do more and burn more calories; it wouldn’t make much of a difference to our metabolic rate, which is what the research seems to be indicating. Our metabolic rate is the rate at which our bodies consume energy.
This means that if the Hadza has a similar metabolic rate to us, it’s likely that their bodies have adapted to be more ‘energy efficient’ to allow them to deal with the physical challenges of their environment, which involves hunting on foot, with bows and arrows.
This could indicate that if we continuously subject our bodies to the same amount of exercise, our bodies may become more energy efficient and therefore our metabolic rate will return to normal. So what this could indicate is that we either continuously need to challenge our bodies while we also need to aim to eat less, however the focus seems to be primarily on eating less.
Obviously, further confirmation of these findings is required before it should be taken as doctrine. However the findings are still extremely interesting and may change the way we structure weight loss regimes in the future. I don’t think that we should ever exclude exercise completely, but what we could take from the findings is that it there is no point in overeating or eating unhealthy and assuming that doing exercise will make up for it. It may sound like an arbitrary conclusion, but perhaps key to a healthy body and mind is to ensure that we only consume enough calories to satisfy the challenges of our environment.