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Walking the Walk to Teach the Talk: Implementing Ancestral Lifestyle Strategies as the Newest Tool in Evolutionary Studies


Abstract and Figures

The learning of evolutionary theory typically takes place in the classroom or laboratory. Students of these traditional approaches often leave with the notion that applications of evolutionary theory have little bearing on their lives. The Evolutionary Studies Consortium (EvoS; has been extremely successful in overcoming these barriers and demonstrating the bridges across academic areas that can be created with the principles of evolution as a guide. While this is a fantastic means through which to educate students about the intricacies of evolution, we believe that the full potential of this approach has yet to be realized. Applications beyond strict academic contexts are still waiting to be mined. Here, we outline an approach that proposes the implementation of a nutrition and physical fitness program, alongside classroom pedagogy, as a means of helping students learn about evolution and how it can be used to increase their own quality of life. KeywordsHealth and fitness–Evolutionary health–Ancestral lifestyle
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Walking the Walk to Teach the Talk: Implementing
Ancestral Lifestyle Strategies as the Newest Tool
in Evolutionary Studies
Steven M. Platek &Glenn Geher &Leslie Heywood &
Hamilton Stapell &J. Ryan Porter &Tia Y. Walters
Published online: 27 January 2011
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
Abstract The learning of evolutionary theory typically
takes place in the classroom or laboratory. Students of these
traditional approaches often leave with the notion that
applications of evolutionary theory have little bearing on
their lives. The Evolutionary Studies Consortium (EvoS; has been extremely successful in overcoming
these barriers and demonstrating the bridges across academic
areas that can be created with the principles of evolution as a
guide. While this is a fantastic means through which to
educate students about the intricacies of evolution, we believe
that the full potential of this approach has yet to be realized.
Applications beyond strict academic contexts are still waiting
to be mined. Here, we outline an approach that proposes the
implementation of a nutrition and physical fitness program,
alongside classroom pedagogy, as a means of helping students
learn about evolution and how it can be used to increase their
own quality of life.
Keywords Health and fitness .Evolutionary health .
Ancestral lifestyle
EvoS as a Builder of Bridges across Islands
of the Academic Archipelago
The EvoS Consortium, which is highlighted in this special
issue of Evolution:Education and Outreach, provides
strong evidence that Darwins ideas have the capacity to
revolutionize modern academia. As David Sloan Wilson
(2007) tells us, academia is not really the Ivory Tower of
traditional metaphoric usageit is an archipelagoperhaps
an ivory archipelagocomprised of discrete islands whose
native inhabitants are either unaware of one another or who
are extremely skeptical of one anothers intentions. Theatre
arts is an island. Business management is an island.
Computer engineering is an island. Physical education is
an island. Microbiology is an island. Sociology is an island.
One might think that the current movement toward
interdisciplinary studies that characterizes modern academia
is a step toward solving the archipelago problem. Clearly,
interdisciplinary efforts have increased across the landscape
of higher education (Tappeiner et al. 2007) with beneficial
effects. With that said, traditional interdisciplinary
approaches have clear limits. Many typical interdisciplinary
kinds of programs, in areas such as Black Studies,
Religious Studies, or Womens Studies, for instance,
S. M. Platek (*):J. R. Porter :T. Y. Walters
Department of Psychology,
Georgia Gwinnett College,
Lawrenceville, GA, USA
J. R. Porter
T. Y. Walters
G. Geher
Department of Psychology,
SUNY-New Paltz,
New Paltz, NY, USA
H. Stapell
Department of History,
SUNY-New Paltz,
New Paltz, NY, USA
L. Heywood
Binghamton University,
Binghamton, NY, USA
Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151
DOI 10.1007/s12052-010-0309-y
address a particular set of content from the perspective of
different academic approaches.
EvoS is different (see Carmen et al. 2010). EvoS
programs are connected by a shared set of intellectual
principles and ideas rather than a shared set of content. The
basic ideas of natural selection, sexual selection, and
cultural evolution, for instance, can be applied broadly to
add insights into such disparate areas as anthropology,
entomology, geology, philosophy, and social psychology
(see Garcia et al. 2011). While EvoS has provided an
infrastructure for expanding the application of evolutionary
science in education across disciplines, others have under-
taken the idea as well (see Bjorklund and Brown 2008;
Geary 2008; Gray 2010).
This landmark approach to higher education, which
started as the result of David Sloan Wilsons efforts in
Binghamton in 2003, has proven so successful that we now
have a consortium of 40+ schools that have some level of
involvement in this approach to undergraduate education.
Furthermore, we have received a grant of $500,000 from
the National Science Foundation (NSF#0817337) to bolster
our efforts and have established a major web presence in, complete with links to online videos of
EvoS speakers across institutions, the EvoS blogs, EvoS
Journal: The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium
(a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to issues related to
evolution in higher education), and a library of curricular
resources designed to enhance courses related to EvoS.
EvoS has an unprecedented capacity to build bridges across
the Ivory Archipelagoand judging by the broad interest
in EvoS from colleges and universities across the world,
coupled with substantial support from the NSF, we believe
this stance is justified.
Ultimately, a strong intellectual approach should be used to
the benefit of individuals and society. Given the powerful
nature of evolutionary theory in explaining phenomena across
islands of the Ivory Archipelago, EvoS has extraordinary
potential to lead to positive social and personal applications.
Efforts toward this end are under way. Consider the major
advances in Darwinian medicine (Williams and Nesse 1991,
1996), for instance, that have taken place in recent years.
Evolution is also beginning to be applied in such fields as
educational psychology and urban planning.
Given how basic evolutionary principles are to the
nature of biological organisms, it should be fundamental
to apply evolution to the areas of personal nutrition and
physical fitness. While a growing body of scholarship is
starting to take this idea seriously, to our understanding,
there is not yet a single college course in the United States
that is dedicated to the application of evolutionary
principles to the topics of nutrition and physical fitness.
Additionally, there is not yet a class for which nutrition and
physical fitness are utilized as pedagogical tools to aid
students in learning how a complete understanding of
evolutionary principles can actually increase their quality of
Changes are on the horizon. For one, a world-class
international conference dedicated to evolutionary applica-
tions to nutrition and physical fitness is slated for summer
2011 on the campus at UCLA (www.ancestryfoundation.
org). Second, many major approaches to nutrition now
explicitly address food in terms of our evolutionary history
as a species (Cordain et al. 2002). Finally, the current
explosion of the CrossFit
physical fitness program is
bringing our understanding of our evolutionary heritage to
the forefront of modern physical fitness training. Maybe it
is time to start a college class in physical fitness and
nutrition from the angle of evolutionary theory.
To address this issue, we have developed a new tool to
teach evolutionary principles and reap the benefits for
individuals and societies. This approach entails a carefully
prescribed physical fitness and nutrition regimen that, based
on what we can surmise from anthropology, psychology,
biology, physiology, exercise science, and sports psychology,
approximates what our ancestors faced on a daily basis and
modern hunter gatherer groups undergo daily. This physical
fitness and nutrition program, which we are tentatively calling
EvoT (pronounced evo-tee; Evolutionary Training), makes
use of three basic principles to aid education about evolution
while simultaneously increasing student physical health and
fitness. First, the students are exposed to evolutionarily
inspired physical fitness programming. This programming
utilizes the Power Law model for exercise that prescribes
workouts that are short in duration but high in intensity
(e.g., sprinting) combined with frequent movement at a
slow pace (e.g., hiking/walking). The program includes
an exercise regimen that is designed to be constantly
varied. This constant variance of physical stimulus regularly
confuses and challenges the body both muscularly and
neurologically and aids in the avoidance of the all too
common plateau effect in physical performance. The exercises
include movements that are considered functional in nature
(e.g., lifting objects as opposed to curling your leg). This form
of exercise regimen taps all three major metabolic pathways
CrossFit ( is but one physical fitness outlet that is
offering education and training in functional movements that
approximate ancestral patterns of movement. Other iterations of such
evolutionarily minded physical fitness programs include, but are not
limited to: (1) Arthur Devany's Evolutionary Fitness (http://www.; (2) potentially, an even closer approximation,
Erwan LeCore's MovNat. The latter involves training seminars where
participants are asked to live in the forest and swim, hunt, climb, run
over obstacles, as well as forage for some of their own food; and (3)
The Primal Blueprint ( We utilize the
CrossFit methodology for this paper because we are currently using it
in our first attempt at a course like EvoT.
42 Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151
for energy expenditure: the phosphagen, the glycolytic, and
the oxidative. Second, students are exposed to the Paleolithic
diet (, which is our best
estimation of what our ancestors subsided on. And third,
students will be taught why this particular exercise and
nutrition program works to aid their weight loss, muscular
development, general physical fitness and preparedness,
athletic performance, mental acuity, and psychological
The Next Step in EvoS Evolution: Evolutionary
Evolutionary fitness and physical fitness are two separate
terms that, although different, correspond to the ideal
healthy Homo sapien. Evolutionary fitness or Darwinian
fitness is dependent not only on the number of offspring
produced, but also by the differential rate of an increase of
genotypes in a population (Roff 2008). Evolutionary
biologists often refer to this as genetic representation in
subsequent generations. In contrast, physical fitness is the
amount of acquired physical attributes a person possesses.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, there are two aspects of physical fitness. First,
health-related fitness, common among those in the general
population, is the concentration on the reduction or
movement out of disease and/or injury. Second is
performance-related fitness which emphasizes the amount
of physical training required to achieve a physically
demanding objective. The primary purpose is to have the
physical capability to accomplish all aspects of a goal while
remaining healthy and/or uninjured (Roy et al. 2010).
Darwinian fitness and physical fitness are likely closely
related: physically fit (that is, healthy, disease-free individuals
that can solve physically demanding challenges) would make
good mate choices (at least under certain selective pressures).
On the other hand, physical fitness and/or prowess might aid
Darwinian fitness by making physically demanding behaviors
(e.g., mate guarding, protecting offspring and family, acquir-
ing resources) easier and/or more likely. If we take into
consideration the expanded evolutionary principles of the
Extended Synthesis that will be discussed later in this paper,
even more profound may be the question of how
physical fitness impacts maternal health and the health
of the developing fetus. Recent research has shown the
negative effects of maternal diet or environmental
carcinogens upon a fetus. On the other hand, what would
be the measurable positive effects on fetal and infant
health of a generation of women who train through their
pregnancies, as has been happening in the generation of
women born post Title IX in the U.S., for whom serious
athletic training has always been a cultural norm? This
question lies beyond the scope of this paper, but points
to a crucial research area for future work.
Current physical fitness practices often fail to take our
evolutionary heritage into account. For example, its
generally agreed that ancestral humans lived a varied and
active lifestyle. Physical exertion was vital to survival, both
in food procurement and escape from predation (Cordain
et al. 1998). Myriad activities were part of daily life and
occurred spontaneously using universal motor recruitment
patterns. These include: walking and running long dis-
tances, lifting, carrying, climbing, stretching, leaping, and
virtually any other behavior that may have been needed in
order to obtain food and/or safety (Abuissa et al. 2005).
Natural selection favored functional movements
would have better equipped our ancestors to do these
It would have behooved our ancestors to be as efficient
as possible; any wasted energy would have exponentially
decreased the likelihood of survival and reproduction. An
example of efficient movement might have taken place
during long-distance hunts. In Homo erectus,the earliest
species in the genus Homo whose body mass and
locomotor morphology resembled that of modern humans,
walking at optimal speeds would have used up 64% of their
daily energy expenditure. Running continuously at optimal
speeds would have used 84%. As a result, it might have
been more beneficial, at times, for our ancestors to move
more slowly (i.e., when traveling from campsite to
campsite, while hunting/gathering), with intermittent bursts
of high-intensity running (i.e., when they spotted prey or a
predator; Eaton and Eaton 2003). Today, running/walking
5Ks, marathons, ultra marathons, and competing in track
and field (e.g., sprinting) are done primarily for exercise
and sport but are quasi-parallel to what our ancestors might
have had to do on a regular basis simply to ensure their
The functional movements that aided our ancestors are
just as efficient for modern humans today. These move-
ments are compound yet irreducible and work from core to
extremity. Many gyms and fitness centers are very well
equipped with machines that work isolated muscle groups
(e.g., leg extension, biceps curl, triceps push down), but the
lack of compound or multi-joint movements make this type
of workout regime, especially at high loads, purely
unnatural to humans. The various lifts and movements
implemented by CrossFit (and other evolutionarily inspired
physical fitness programs, see above) serve functional
Functional movements are defined as movements that 1) recruit
more than one group of muscles, 2) recruit primarily large muscle
groups (e.g., gluteus complex, hip flexor and iliopsoas complexes), 3)
work from core to extremity, and 4) are efficient at moving large loads
long distances quickly, if needed.
Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151 43
purposes that mimic motor recruitment patterns that are
found in everyday life and endorse General Physical
Preparedness (GPP), or physical fitness, that no isometric
machine could come close to matching. That is, the exercise
prescription put forth by CrossFit and
prepares individuals to be physically prepared to tackle
physically related obstacles even if those obstacles are
unknown to the individual. For example, one might never
climb his/her way across a river via a tree bridge. The
fitness prescription set forth in EvoT should prepare an
individual to (1) be able to tackle that obstacle and (2) be
able to do it better than if the individual had trained isolated
muscle groups.
Example Exercises
The dead lift (see Glassman 2003a; see Fig. 1) is one of, if
not the most important and functional exercises available to
move heavy weight. This movement is unmatched in its
simplicity while exceptional in its capacity for increasing
full body strength. Unfortunately, this exercise is seldom
seen in the traditional fitness clubs because of fear of injury.
If executed correctly, however, the dead lift is undeniably
the safest way to lift heavy loads off the ground. Our
ancestors would have used this lifting technique to pick up
large and/or heavy objects such as stones or children, to
drag animal carcasses, and to move materials for shelter
construction (Eaton and Eaton 2003; Eich 2009). Today,
this modus operandi is used in much the same way: to lift
heavy objects from the ground, such as a bag of dog food,
luggage, and moving furniture and heavier materials used
in home maintenance. In contrast, a biceps curl serves little-
to-no functional purpose. Our ancestors would not have
slowly curled a gazelle leg to the mouth for consumption.
This is an isolated muscle building exercise used to develop
mirror muscles(musculature that looks good as one poses
in front of a reflective source as opposed to muscles that
solve physical problems).
Another quintessential functional movement is the squat
(see Glassman 2002; see Fig. 2). This one movement is
vital to a persons overall well-being and can assist in
advancing an individuals physical fitness by allowing the
back, hips, and knees (i.e., multi-joint, multi-muscle) to
remain reliable and functioning well into ones elderly
years. Squatting is likely to be the technique that is used
most frequently, and when combined with other techniques,
it increases power and ones ability to pick up a greater
amount of weight, faster. Ancestrally, the squat probably
pervaded everyday life. From standing up, semi-squatting
in preparation for a jump, a variation of a one-legged squat
used when climbing trees, up sheer cliffs, to squatting when
lifting very heavy objects like logs and larger, heavier
animals, this movement was a regular activity (OKeefe
Fig. 1 The deadlift. Image
provided courtesy of CrossFit.
com, CrossFit, Inc
44 Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151
and Cordain 2004a). Moreover, the bottom position of the
squat is the stance used by many huntergatherer societies
and young children to excrete solid waste, which flies in the
face of exercise scientistscommonly held notion that
going low in a squat can be detrimental to the knees. Even
when sitting, the bottom of a squat is the natural position, a
position occupied by young children frequently, and a
position that is unavoidable should you try to get up off of
the ground from your back. Although times have changed,
these same basic movements are imperative to humans
today. In comparison, a leg extension on a nautilus machine
is nonfunctionalit utilizes one set of isolated muscles and
executes the movement in an unnatural fashion, and has no
use in the everyday world.
The ability to get something from the ground to the
shoulder would have been useful to our ancestors (e.g.,
carrying hunting gear, an injured relative, or a small dead
carcass). The most efficient way to do this is the power clean,
and for heavier objects, the squat clean (see Glassman 2003b;
see Fig. 3). This compound movement combines a deadlift
with a powerful shoulder shrug and a drop into a squat to get
beneath the object, then bringing it to rest on the clavicles or
shoulders (trapezius). This is a movement most men and
women would recognize from the simple gesture of picking
up a heavy object and relocating it to an elevated location.
A final movement that occurs with regularity in Cross-
Fit, and most functional fitness programming, yet may not
have the recognition of some of the more common
exercises, is the kettle bell swing (see Glassman 2004). To
perform this movement, one stands straight with their legs
shoulder-width apart. The individual then leans forward at
the waist slightly and bends the knees, going into a semi-
squat. Keeping the back arched and face forward, the
person then grasps the kettle bell. Rocking slightly he/she
swings the weight with both hands in between the legs.
Then, using the power of a thrust originating from the hip,
quadriceps, glutes, and lower back, the individual launches
the weight forward than up overhead. Our ancestors may
have used a similar technique while shoveling, for example
during the burying of the dead (Bar-Yosef Mayer et al.
2009). Even though today a between-the-legs motion is not
used while digging, the kettle bell swing still engages
muscle groups that are needed for this task. Additionally,
kettle bell swings strengthen the spinus erectus muscles of
the lower back that are engaged in the above-mentioned
essential exercisesdead lift, squat, and cleanto a high
degree, thus further strengthening the core as opposed to
extremity muscle groups. Surprisingly, however, training
using the core to extremity approach does actually
accentuate the development of muscles such as the biceps
Fig. 2 The air squat. Image
provided courtesy of CrossFit.
com, CrossFit, Inc
Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151 45
brachii. Platek has surmised that training in a way that is
functional and ancestral will not only produce optimal
physical fitness and general physical preparedness but also
produce optimally designed bodies (e.g., accentuate waist-to-
hip ratio in women and shoulder-to-hip ratio in men). This
hypothesis is currently being tested.
Conventional physical fitness standards must be chal-
lenged with a neo-regimen that draws from movements that
are basic, functional, and, thus, ancestral in form. What we
would like to advocate is a functional modification to physical
fitness that not only makes one look good naked but supports
the health and well-being of the individual throughout the
course of his or her life. With this thinking, CrossFit
prescribes the most applicable physical fitness program.
Using the CrossFit methodology, ten primary modalities
can be trained and improved: cardiovascular/respiratory
endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordi-
nation, agility, balance, and accuracy (Glassman 2010). With
such evolutionary and functional training, lives will be
changed to not only increase longevity but also enhance their
Nutritional Prescription: The Paleolithic (Caveman)
The second principle to aid education about evolution while
simultaneously increasing student physical fitness and
health pertains to nutrition. Our approach covers the
evolution of human eating patterns and then relates those
patterns to health and physical fitness today. More
specifically, we examine what humans ate for the approxi-
mately 2.5 million years prior to the Neolithic Revolution (the
invention of agriculture) and how that way of life can serve as
a guide for maximizing well-being in our modern world.
Rather than simply emphasizing the memorization of infor-
mation, this approach focuses on the daily implementation of
nutritional strategies based on our evolutionary past. Thus, the
main objective is for students to acquire a thorough
understanding of the basic processes of evolution as they
relate to human health and to develop the nutritional habits to
improve physical fitness and overall well-being.
After completing the nutritional component of EvoT,
students should be able to accomplish the following three
Fig. 3 The clean squat. Image
provided courtesy of CrossFit.
com, CrossFit, Inc
46 Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151
educational goals. First, they should be familiar with the
basic concepts of evolution, including natural selection,
sexual selection, adaptation, and cultural evolution. Second,
students should understand the major milestones in human
evolutionary development as they relate to nutrition over
the past 2.5 million years. Third, participants in EvoT
should be able to construct a weekly eating plan using
Paleolithicfood sources that were commonly available
prior to the invention of agriculture. The combination of
these three goals will allow students to experience for
themselves the power and usefulness of evolutionary
The nutritional regimen we prescribe as part of EvoT is
commonly referred to as the Paleo Diet. This diet involves
eating only foods that we think our ancestors (>10,000 years
ago) would have had access to, thus avoiding foods that
have flourished under human agricultural evolution and
domestication, and foods that are processed and that hunter-
gatherers would not include in their regular diet. This
approach is centered on the idea that the genus Homo has
been evolving for more than two million years, yet humans
have only been farming for the past 10,000 years. And,
more to the point, modern humans are almost genetically
the same as our Paleolithic ancestors (Lindeberg et al.
2003). As a result, our bodies have been designed to eat
and are accustomed to eatinga hunter-gatherer diet, not
the products of the Neolithic Revolution. In fact, humans
lost both stature and strength with the invention of
agriculture (Richards 2002).
The Paleo Diet we prescribe includes: fruits and
vegetables, nuts and seeds, meat and fish, and eggs. At
the same time, it avoids recent additions to the human diet,
such as wheat, rice, corn, legumes, potatoes, and dairy
products. In addition, foods that have been introduced in
the past 100150 years are strictly excluded (e.g., processed
foods). These products of industrial food production
include: refined sugars and flours, processed and packaged
foods, fast food, hydrogenated and processed vegetable
oils, artificial flavors and sweeteners, and soft drinks. As a
species, we are simply not adapted to eat these foods. This
Paleo or ancestral human diet is obtained from historical
and ethnographic studies of modern-day hunter-gatherers
and from archeological finds and anthropological evidence.
Our focus, however, is not just on what is eaten but also on
how it is produced.
The idea is to select foods that most closely
approximate their naturalor originalstate and to
avoid industrialized food products. For example, free-
range chickens, and their eggs, are closer to wild
chickens than is conventionally, group-raised poultry.
Likewise, grass-fed, free-range beef and wild-caught fish
should be chosen whenever possible over their conven-
tional alternatives. The same goes for produce. Locally
grown, seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables are
preferable to industrially produced and genetically mod-
ified food. It has only been for the last 100 years that we
have been spraying chemicals on our crops and giving
our livestock drugs. In all of the examples above, the
non-conventional choice is more nutritious and closer to
what our ancestors ate (Lindeberg 2005).
In this sense, there is a clear link between the current
discussions of sustainable food production in localized
contexts, the locavoremovement, local economic revitali-
zation movements such as the Business Alliance for Local
Living Economies (BALLE), and the changes we are
proposing here. As the evidence becomes undeniable that
current globalized practices of food production with their
massive scale and thousands-mile long supply chains are
unsustainable, emphasis has returned to local food
production economies. These small-scale economies
center around principles of free-range meat and organic
farming, both implicitly and explicitly addressing the
ethical, ecological, and economic problems with factory
farminga major part of which is their distortion of
organismsevolutionary heritage. As Michael Pollan writes,
American factory farm[s] . . . are places where the subtleties
of moral philosophy and animal cognition mean less than
nothing, where everything weve learned about animals at
least since Darwin has been simply . . . set aside.Frompigs
and cows that are fed unnatural diets to fatten them faster and
given antibiotics to mitigate the resulting health problems to
chickens that turn to cannibalism due to their unbearable
cramped conditions, the factory farm is a site of cruelty that
utterly disregards how an animals evolutionarily developed
physiology actually functions. Problems related to the sustain-
ability of our current food production practices function on
many levels, from the impact of pesticides and fertilizers on
ecosystems to the impact of factory farming on animal
physiology to the impact of all of these on human health.
Not only are agriculture and industrial food production
quite new (given our evolutionary perspective), there is also
a growing body of literature that links dairy and grain
consumption with diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, type 2
diabetes, Crohns Disease, multiple sclerosis, irritable
bowel syndrome, and some forms of cancer (Lindeberg
2010). In addition, the lipid hypothesisof cardiovascular
disease, which usually blames meat and saturated fat
consumption, is increasingly coming under scrutiny
(OKeefe and Cordain 2004b). Following the Paleo Diet
can improve, and possibly even reverse, these diseases of
civilization(Lindeberg et al. 2003).
The Paleo Diet also calls for sporadic eating. Today, this
is commonly referred to as intermittent fasting. The idea
behind occasionally limiting caloric intake is simple. When
food was plentiful, our ancestors ate more than they needed
(and stored the excess as fat). When times were scarce, they
Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151 47
survived on fat stores. This random or non-lineareating
pattern appears to confer several advantages, including
decreasing insulin resistance, giving the digestive system
time to rest, and allowing the body an opportunity to heal
itself (Varady and Hellerstein 2007). Intermittent fasting is
achieved by reallocating calories from one meal to another
(for example, by forgoing dinner and then eating more the
following day), rather than by reducing the total number of
calories consumed in a day or in a week. This is in contrast
to calorically restricted diets in which individuals simply
reduce the total number of calories by 30% from their
daily caloric requirements. There are several hypotheses
regarding how generalized caloric restriction positively
impacts longevity ranging from alteration of glycolysis in
mitochondria to simply lowering Body Mass Index (for review
see Sinclair 2005).
The benefits of following a Paleo Diet are myriad
(Cordain et al. 2005a,b). In addition to avoiding the
diseases of civilizationmentioned above, students trained
in the EvoT nutritional approach likely will have lower
blood pressure, maintain a stronger immune system,
become physically stronger, and have improved hormone
regulation (Frassetto et al. 2009). They will also have more
sustained energy and have better control over insulin
production and blood sugar levels (Lindeberg et al. 2007).
With increased insulin control, participants will be able to
manage their body weight more effectively. Given the
dramatic rise in obesityand the accompanying health care
costs associated with this epidemicover the past two
decades, this is a significant benefit to both the individual
and society as a whole. It is only through a greater
appreciation of human ancestral eating patterns and
evolution that this kind of change can take place.
In short, the EvoT approach to nutrition both educates
students about evolution and optimizes their health and
fitness. For us, it is a two-way street. Teaching the
development of human nutrition serves to demonstrate
many of the processes of evolution, while exploring the
principles of evolution helps guide and inform our dietary
choices today. Here, as in the other two principles of the
program, our goal is to provide a bridge across academic
disciplines and to bring evolutionary theory directly to bear
on peoples lives in a positive and productive way.
Enlightenment: Does the Program Work
for the Students?
The third principle of EvoT is that students in this program
will be taught/made aware of how and why this particular
exercise and nutrition regimen works to aid their weight
loss. They will also be taught about the programs potential
influence on: muscular development, general physical
fitness and preparedness, athletic performance, mental
acuity, and psychological well-being. This pedagogical task
is being undertaken by collecting data on the students while
they are engaged/enrolled in the program.
Does it work? We dont know yet. However, we have
outlined a possible means with which educators can
implement and test the principles in order to answer that
question; this is already underway at one of our institutions.
Its important to note that EvoT does not necessarily have
to be a course listed in the Department of Physical
Education or Exercise Science, although it may very well
reside in either one or be cross-listed. EvoT has the breadth
to allow it to be taught in any discipline that embraces the
EvoS methodology, for example: psychology, biology,
anthropology, and political science. EvoT is not simply a
course about exercise. EvoT is designed to be a course
about utilizing exercise and nutrition regimens to teach
people about evolutionary science and how it applies to
them, here and now!
One of us (SP) has begun to implement EvoT in a course
at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) as a pilot investigation
of the idea. Here is an outline of how an existing course on
evolutionary psychology has been modified to include an
EvoT component. In addition to the general requirements of
the course that include examinations and a research paper/
presentation, the instructor has also assigned a personal
laboratory/lifestyle changeproject. This project is designed
to get students thinking about the role evolution plays in their
everyday life by asking them to change one thing they do to be
in line with EvoT principles. Students are instructed on day
one about the objectives of the project: they will be collecting
data on themselves using personal diaries; they need to track a
set of dependent variables that we believe EvoT will
positively influence (e.g., psychological well-being, concen-
tration, sleep patterns and quality, energy level, and mood), as
well as make any other notes about their daily lives that they
feel might be important (open-ended). They are then told that,
after four weeks of closely monitoring their dependent
variables, during a baseline period, they are going to be given
a list of behaviors they can choose to modify in their lives (for
a second four weeks). This list includes: start an evolutionary/
functional fitness program, change their existing fitness
program to one that is more functional in nature, change their
diet to Paleo, walkan extra 1,000 (or more) steps per day, and/
or change one thing about their diet (e.g., eliminate dairy or
While EvoT will strive toward educating students about the
Paleolithic-like diet as a means of moving students away from
processed, modern foods that confer less nutritional value, advanced
iterations of EvoT might include prescriptions for optimizing intake
with respects to quantity. In other words, although a transition to an
unrestricted Paleo-like diet will likely improve the health and fitness
of many people, a more careful dialing in of optimal quantities may
further enhance the health and fitness benefits, as well as provide an
additional fruitful area for evolutionary research.
48 Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151
grains). In other words, the students are not required to
revamp their entire existence. Rather, they simply have to
make one adjustment in their behavior in line with EvoT. The
change they select can be drastic, such as eating a strict
Paleo diet or less drastic, such as increasing the number
of daily steps by 1,000. The students are instructed/
encouraged to maintain their new behavior for four
weeks and continue to track the dependent variables and
personal feelings. At the end of the eight-week session,
students turn in their diaries and give a presentation on
their experience. The diary data will also be analyzed in
mass, and in typical EvoS fashion, the data are then
presented to the class in combination with a traditional
lecture about evolutionary fitness and nutrition and what
the data mean. This prescription for executing an EvoT
program can be executed at any college and in almost
any course that finds itself in line with an EvoS theoretical
While the program above is only 50% executed at time
of submission, we do feel that this program is valid and has
worked to demonstrate the value of an evolutionary or
ancestral lifestyle to our students. Evidence of this comes
from data we have collected on a local set of athletes that
have altered their training and dietary regimens to an
ancestral lifestyle strategy. Because the data being collected
in the gym environment is not as standardized, this data is
qualitative, case study in nature, but we do think it shows
the effects of such alterations in behavior.
Case 1: RP. RP is a 23-year-old male who started
working out in April of 2010. After his first workout, he
was literally physically debilitated and could not complete
the workout. He joined a local CrossFit Affiliate Gym
(CrossFit Gwinnett) and began to learn about functional
fitness, ancestral living, and Paleolithic eating. In a few
short months of living this way, RP has lost almost
30 pounds of fat and has gained strength rapidly. He
increased his max deadlift by over 175 pounds! More
importantly, RP has learned the essence of EvoT through its
ability to instill general physical preparedness. He now
reports that his general daily activities such as walking
across campus, gardening, and carrying groceries are
simple tasks, while previously, they were challenging.
Case 2: JJ. JJ is a 47-year-old male who had been
working out for several years prior to embracing an EvoT/
ancestral lifestyle. JJ is a vegan, which makes transitioning
to a Paleolithic diet challenging, and he chose to stay with
his Vegan eating habits. He joined CrossFit Gwinnett in
May. Since joining and learning the basics and importance
of functional weightlifting, he reports experiencing an
increase in cardiovascular function, he has increased in
strength (e.g., deadlift has gone up almost 100 pounds),
increased his flexibility to where he is now able to execute
full range of motion in his knees, and he also reports a
general heightened sense of well-being. JJ has also
experienced an increase in GPP as he explains:
I was driving along and wham there goes my tire!
Shit! I immediately reverted back to my prior self
thinking this is going to really suck. Then, it dawned
on me, Ive been training for this. I got out of my
truck and changed the tire. Sure I was a bit sweaty,
this is Georgia in the summer, but I was not winded,
as I would certainly have been previously. I owe this
to the functional training Id been doing for the few
months previously.
Case 3: TW. TW is a 29-year-old female who has a long
history of athletics and working out. She joined CrossFit
Gwinnett in April and started the Paleolithic diet in June.
TW has also experienced drastic changes in her strength
and cardiovascular capacities. She has also changed in
appearance and regularly reports that people are asking
about how she got so fit and in shape so quickly.
Case 4: AK. AK is a 29-year-old female. She has an
extensive athletic background and has worked out for most
of her adult life. She was first introduced to functional
fitness and EvoT in January. She had reported experiencing
a plateaushe felt like she had stalled out and could not
lose any more weight or tighten upany further. This was
disappointing to AK. She decided to give CrossFit and an
80% Paleolithic diet (80% Paleo, 20% whatever she likes) a
try. AK had also just started a new job where she was
forced to buy new business clothing that was appropriate
for the office. After just one month of starting the EvoT-
based lifestyle change, AK reported that her new clothes
did not fit her on her first day of work: they were too big on
her! At about the same time AK discovered that she was
pregnant with her first child. She was disappointed that she
might not be able to continue her new fitness and
nutritional regimen, but her doctor assured her that she
could continue as long as she felt up to it (turns out this is
very much in line with EvoT and ancestral living because
hunter-gatherer moms maintain their pre-pregnant activity
levels and eating patterns). AK did not waiver from the
program for all 41 weeks of her gestation. She experienced
an unparalleled benefit from the program with respect to
her pregnancy. She gained only 21.5 pounds, and the baby
measured perfect for his development, so AK was never
underweight. She was stronger than ever during her
pregnancy, still being able to execute moves such as the
dead lift and the pull-up. She even ran on occasion. Now,
6 weeks post-partum AK has maintained her EvoT activity
and has lost all but 2 pounds of her pregnancy weight and
has regained strength to pre-pregnancy levels as if she had
never missed a step.
While lacking in detail, here, each of these cases outlines
the very premise of EvoT: teach a person about ancestral
Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151 49
living (physical fitness and nutrition) and allow them to
reap the rewards of good health and psychological well-
being. In the classroom, this process is brought full circle
pedagogically to teach the students about why and how
they are feeling different biochemically, physically, struc-
turally, and psychologically. In fact, at the time of
submission, early data from the first EvoT iteration are
rolling in. In addition to the many anecdotal reports of
general increases in well-being, the data are showing that
people improved physically during the EvoT period relative
to the baseline period. To quote one student:
[Physical] exercise and nutrition were never very
interesting to me. I subscribed to an everything in
moderation mantra, but this class has taught me that
we were made to move and eat in a specific way and
that if we move and eat in a way that is consistent with
our evolutionary and biological roots we can experi-
ence health and fitness. This is awesome! Iminthe
best shape of my life and I am sorry that I just
discovered this way of living at the age of 41; Ive
already started to change things at home so that the rest
of my family can experience the same benefits I have
By coupling sound evolutionary education and actively
placing students in a position to walk the walkof our
evolutionary ancestors, the students will not only reap the
rewards of ancestral lifestyle changes (better physical and
psychological well-being). They also gain a deeper and
more personal understanding of evolution as it applies to
humans and to themselves. Interestingly, the pedagogical
part of EvoT is minimal. The quote above demonstrates the
almost common sense nature of this teaching procedure:
prescribe the physical fitness and/or nutritional change
while continuing to teach about how evolution works, and
the benefits as well as the link between the two becomes
glaringly apparent to the students. This approach neatly
dovetails with the ecological awareness called for in
Massimo PigliuccisExtended Synthesis and the basic
premise of EvoS. The idea is that evolutionary principles
are highly relevant to the lives of modern humans and can
be applied in positive ways. The Extended Synthesis begins
to rectify the nearly exclusive focus on natural selection,
gradualism, and population genetics in evolutionary biologys
modern synthesis.From developing areas such as epige-
netics and Evo Devo, to definitional concepts such as
phenotypic plasticity, evolvability, and niche construction,
the Extended Synthesis emphasizes that there are many, in
John Odling-Smeeswords,co-causal process[es] in evolu-
tion. We argue that EvoT might be another example of the
Extended Synthesissexpanded approach, bringing together
research areas in a new and integrative way.
While exercise physiologist Andrew Hatchett has al-
ready implemented the first CrossFit course to be offered at
a university as part of the physical education curriculum at
the University of Louisiana, he does not include evolution-
ary theory as part of his emphasis. The EvoS consortium is
uniquely situated to do so. As an extension of these ideas,
New Paltz and Binghamton are concurrently working to
create official courses in the curricula that integrate the
academics of their existing EvoS programs with the
Athletics/Recreational programs on campus. This course,
which will serve as a formally institutionalized version of
the program currently underway at Georgia Gwinnett
College, will be a significant step in the application of
evolutionary theory to the everyday lives of individuals.
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Evo Edu Outreach (2011) 4:4151 51
... A classic example of such mismatch pertains to modern food preferences. Under ancestral conditions-when drought and famine were common on the African savanna-a preference for high fat, sugary foods would have been adaptive because that would have led to seeking out such foods, consequentially storing fat on one's bones to help him or her make it through the next famine (see Platek, Geher, Heywood, Stapell, Porter, & Waters, 2011). From the evolutionary perspective, a psychobiological feature such as food preference takes a long time to be selected out of a population, and because of that, our modern minds still hold this preference for high fat and sugary foods. ...
... Across a broad array of phenomena, evolutionary psychology has famously documented the importance of evolutionary mismatch in helping us understand who we are. Past work has focused on such features of humanity as food preferences (Platek, et al., 2011), psychological disorders (Keller & Nesse, 2006), and phobias (Öhman & Mineka, 2001), among other things. The current work provides preliminary, but clear evidence of the importance of evolutionary mismatch in helping us understand human political responses from an evolutionary perspective. ...
The current research question sought to examine political psychology as it relates to evolutionary mismatch. The basic hypothesis is that people will be more cognitively prepared to think about political situations that are relatively small in scale compared with political situations that are large in scale. This research also examined the effects of whether the political situation is highly relevant to oneself. To test these questions, 49 young adults were presented with four sets of instructions. They were asked to write paragraphs describing (i) a large-scale, self-relevant political situation, (ii) a large-scale non-self-relevant political situation, (iii) a small-scale self-relevant political situation, and (iv) a small-scale non-self-relevant political situation. Paragraphs generated by the participants were analyzed using Tyler's (2013) Writing Sample Readability Analyzer. Results demonstrated that paragraphs designed for large-scale political situations had more sentences and were less readable than paragraphs designed for small-scale situations—while paragraphs designed for small-scale political situations were relatively readable and included more words per sentence, suggesting that, consistent with the core hypothesis, participants had an easier time processing information related to small-scale political situations than large-scale political situations. Implications for the nature of modern politics are discussed.
... CrossFit, which has really become a major exercise trend in the West, claims to be based on an evolutionarily informed approach to movement and exercise (see Glassman, 2010;Platek et al., 2011). The basic rationale is essentially this: In modern, post-Agrarian conditions, people have the opportunities to exercise very little compared to the rates of exercise that would have necessarily characterized our pre-agrarian ancestors. ...
... Modern humans in Westernized societies have developed various exercise regimens in an effort to compensate for the fact that our modern environments are highly mismatched from ancestral environments when it comes to required physical activity (see Platek et al., 2011;Geher, 2014). It is clear that at some point, people in Westernized societies came to figure out that a life without physical exercise is an unhealthy life (see Stapell, in press). ...
... Despite many advances, chronic diseases still plague our society, and healthcare costs are ever increasing. An evolutionary approach offers the opportunity to transcend the divisions inherent in the "Ivory Archipelago" of academia and medical research and to offer new insights into some of the most pressing health problems facing both individuals and our society (Platek et al., 2011). It provides explanations for our vulnerability to diseases. ...
Full-text available
The evolutionary approach to health and disease is typically understood as a recent phenomenon, originating with Boyd Eaton in the 1980s. However, a similar movement swept the United States and Europe more than 100 years ago. Evidence from late 19th- and early 20th-century sources demonstrates the application of Darwinian theory to the health problems of the time. Fearing the deleterious effects of mass urbanization and industrialization, proponents of the physical culture movement offered many familiar “Paleo” recommendations such as the consumption of whole foods, periodic fasting, and drugless medical treatments. Similar to today, these early physical culturalists were often branded as “kooks” by the medical establishment and mainstream society. The central argument of this chapter is that physical culture movement of 100 years ago and the ancestral health movement of today are responses to rapid social, economic, and technological change, namely, to the Industrial Revolution and the Digital Revolution.
... A consideration of this interaction unifies sociological, psychological, and neuroscientific analysis in an evolutionary framework that leads to unique conclusions about the ways sport and physical activity function culturally, socially, and individually. Conversely, sport and physical activity can serve as model systems for the demonstration of evolutionary principles, " walking the walk to teach the talk " (Platek et al., 2011). Previously, when emotion has been studied in the context of sport, it has been largely relegated to the realm of performance enhancement. ...
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Recently there has been a turn toward considerations of embodiment, cognition, and context in sport studies. Many researchers have argued that the traditional focus on clinical psychology and performance enhancement within the discipline is incomplete, and now emphasize the importance of athletes' social and familial contexts in a research paradigm that examines interconnections between movement, cognition, emotion, and the social and cultural context in which movement takes place. While it is important that the sport studies focus is being expanded to consider these interactions, I will argue that this model is still incomplete in that it is missing a fundamental variable - that of our evolutionary neurobiological roots. I will use the work of affective neuroscientists Jaak Panksepp and Stephen Porges to show that because sport so clearly activates neural systems that function at both proximate and ultimate levels of causation, it can be seen to serve fundamental needs for affective balance. A neurobiology of affect shows how the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system has resulted in neurophysiological substrates for affective processes and stress responses, and has wide-ranging implications for sport studies in terms of suggesting what forms of coaching might be the most effective in what context. I propose the term cultural neuropsychology of sport as a descriptor for a model that examines the relationships between neurophysiological substrates and athletes' social and familial contexts in terms of how these variables facilitate or fail to facilitate athletes' neuroceptions of safety, which in turn have a direct impact on their performance. A cultural neuropsychological model of sport might thereby be seen to elaborate a relationship between proximate and ultimate mechanisms in concretely applied ways.
Individuals consider abstract values and principles important aspects of their identities. Nonetheless, they often make judgments and decisions that contradict these values and principles for the sake of pragmatic benefits. Assuming that the process of weighting idealistic and pragmatic concerns is context sensitive, the present research argues that affect influences the relative weight of idealistic versus pragmatic concerns in decision situations owing to its influence on the level of abstraction at which individuals represent situations mentally. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that more positive affect increases the prominent weighting of idealistic over pragmatic concerns while less positive affect leads to less differentiation between the relevance of idealistic and pragmatic concerns. Studies 3 and 4 test the assumption that affective influences on mental abstraction are crucial for affect-dependent shifts in the weighting of idealistic and pragmatic con- cerns. By bringing together theorizing on affect and cognition with recent theorizing on the role of mental abstraction for decision processes, this article highlights a mechanism through which decisions can be influenced by feelings that goes beyond the mechanisms that have typically been discussed in the affect and cognition literature so far.
Full-text available
propose that humans may have evolved a special sensitivity to certain types of social information during rough-and-tumble play that facilitates social cognition. The cognitive benefits of physical play are described as providing a break from demanding intellectual tasks, and are hypothesized to be related to gender differences in spatial cognition.
Full-text available
Purpose: To explore the possibility that a Palaeolithic diet, i.e. one that corresponds to what was available in any of the ecological niches of pre‐agricultural humans (1.5 million–10,000 years bp), is optimal in the prevention of age‐related degenerative disease. Design: Literature review. Materials and Methods: Between 1985 and December 2002, more than 200 scientific journals in medicine, nutrition, biology and anthropology were systematically screened for relevant papers. Computer‐based searches and studies of reference lists in journals and books provided a vast number of additional papers. Results: Increasing evidence suggests that a Palaeolithic diet based on lean meat, fish, vegetables and fruit may be effective in the prevention and treatment of common Western diseases. Avoiding dairy products, margarine, oils, refined sugar and cereals, which provide 70% or more of the dietary intake in northern European populations, may be advisable. Atherosclerosis is highly dependent on dietary manipulation in animal experiments. Atherogenic dietary factors include fat (any type) and casein, and hypothetically cereals. Stroke, ischaemic heart disease and type 2 diabetes seem largely preventable by way of dietary changes in a Palaeolithic direction. And insulin resistance, which may have far‐reaching clinical implications as a cause of unregulated tissue growth, may also respond to an ancestral diet. Conclusions: Lean meat, fish, vegetables and fruit may be optimal, rather than a strictly vegetarian diet, in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and insulin resistance.
Full-text available
A popular diet in Sweden today is the palaeolithic diet, where lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts are dietary staples, while cereals, dairy products, salt and processed fat and sugar are avoided. The underlying rationale is that foods that were available during the evolution of primates, up to the emergence of fully modern humans, are healthier than recently introduced ones (dairy products, cereals, beans, refined fat, sugar, etc.), since our digestive and metabolic systems were not designed for the latter group of foods. Variation in plant foods, another principle based on evolutionary biology, is recommended to avoid high intakes of potentially harmful bioactive substances. It is not known whether palaeolithic diets are more, or less, effective than other diets in weight reduction.
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Education is broadly defined as the set of processes by which each generation of human beings acquires the culture in which they grow up. By this definition, education is part and parcel of our biological makeup. An analysis of education in hunter-gatherer bands indicates that young humans are designed, by natural selection, to acquire the culture through their self-directed play and exploration. Research at a modern-day democratic school designed to facilitate self-education demonstrates that our hunter-gatherer educative instincts are quite adequate for education today, given an appropriate educational environment. The ideal environment for such education—found both in hunter-gatherer bands and at the school studied—is one in which young people (a) have unlimited free time and much space in which to play and explore; (b) can mix freely with other children of all ages; (c) have access to a variety of knowledgeable and caring adults; (d) have access to culturally relevant tools and equipment and are free to play and explore with those items; (e) are free to express and debate any ideas that they wish to express and debate; (f) are free from bullying (which includes freedom from being ordered around arbitrarily by adults); and (g) have a true voice in the group’s decision-making process. The per-student cost required to create such settings is less than half that of the average for our current public schools. KeywordsEducation–Evolution–Hunter-gatherers–Play–Children–Cultural transmission–Self-directed learning
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The complexity of today’s research problems increasingly demands that scientists move beyond the confines of their own discipline. In this special issue, the basics of a transdisciplinary framework are established and problems analyzed in a specific discipline are successfully integrated in this transdisciplinary network. The intent has been to go beyond only statements about the importance of enabling early stage researchers to work across disciplinary boundaries, and to show that important discoveries are being made at the intersection of disciplines. Embedding various research projects in a more global framework can meet the demands of an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach (especially for early stage researchers) and contribute significantly to sustainable research.
Nutrition science is a highly fractionated, contentious field with rapidly changing viewpoints on both minor and major issues impacting on public health. With an evolutionary perspective as its basis, this exciting book provides a framework by which the discipline can finally be coherently explored. By looking at what we know of human evolution and disease in relation to the diets that humans enjoy now and prehistorically, the book allows the reader to begin to truly understand the link between diet and disease in the Western world and move towards a greater knowledge of what can be defined as the optimal human diet. Written by a leading expert Covers all major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, stroke and dementia Details the benefits and risks associated with the Palaeolithic diet Draws conclusions on key topics including sustainable nutrition and the question of healthy eating This important book provides an exciting and useful insight into this fascinating subject area and will be of great interest to nutritionists, dietitians and other members of the health professions. Evolutionary biologists and anthropologists will also find much of interest within the book. All university and research establishments where nutritional sciences, medicine, food science and biological sciences are studied and taught should have copies of this title.
This paper explores the degree of interdisciplinarity of evolutionary approaches to the study of human behavior, and the implications that any such interdisciplinarity may have for the future of evolutionary psychology (EP) as a field of scholarship. To gauge the extent of interdisciplinarity of EP, the departmental affiliation of first-authors from 1000 journal articles evenly distributed across ten leading peer-reviewed psychology journals was assessed. Findings show that journals that are evolutionary-based have more first-authors from outside of psychology, and also include a wider variety of represented disciplines. These findings are discussed in terms of their influence on the future of EP, as a model for interdisciplinary research. EP's future will be successful if it continues to promote interdisciplinarity as well as recognize the epistemological worth of multiple evolutionary paradigms and frameworks. Evolutionary principles have been successfully applied to a broad range of topics, suggesting there is great utility in evolution serving as a common language for interdisciplinary pursuits within the behavioral and social sciences. As such, academic programs such as Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) programs, whose presence continues to increase across academic institutions worldwide, epitomize the future of successful interdisciplinary scholarly training.
Schools are a central interface between evolution and culture. They are the contexts in which children learn the evolutionarily novel abilities and knowledge needed to function as adults in modern societies. Evolutionary educational psychology is the study of how an evolved bias in children's learning and motivational systems influences their ability and motivation to learn evolutionarily novel academic abilities and information in school. I provide an overview of evolved domains of mind, corresponding learning and motivational biases, and the evolved systems that allow humans to learn about and cope with variation and change within lifetimes. The latter enable the creation of cultural and academic innovations and support the learning of evolutionarily novel information in school. These mechanisms and the premises and principles of evolutionary educational psychology are described. Their utility is illustrated by discussion of the relation between evolved motivational dispositions and children's academic motivation and by the relation between evolved social-cognitive systems and mechanisms that support children's learning to read.