Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Tismane women and their children dig in their farm. Experts say the Tsimane‘s preindustrial lifestyle may be a factor in their heart health and suggest the rest of us take notes.

When CT scans of ancient corpses revealed that even 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummies had clogged arteries, scientists jumped to a logical conclusion: Humans are sitting ducks for heart disease.

But a group of Amazonian hunters have proved them wrong.

The Tsimane people of the Bolivian rainforest have almost no deposits of calcium and cholesterol in their arteries, researchers reported in the Lancet medical journal earlier this year. What's more, they have the lowest rates of heart disease of any population ever studied.

Story continues below advertisement

By the time they turn 80, these indigenous people have the "vascular age" of typical Americans in their mid-50s.

The rest of us can take cues from their preindustrial lifestyle, said Dr. Gregory Thomas, co-author of the study and medical director of the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in California.

He attributes the Tsimanes' strong heart health to their strenuous daily activities, not genetics. "I think the most important thing is likely exercise."

Unlike ancient Egyptian nobility, the Tsimane do not eat rich foods and sit on their thrones all day. Instead, they spend most of their waking hours hunting, fishing, farming and gathering foods along Bolivia's Maniqui River. Tsimane men walk the equivalent of 17,000 steps a day. Women tally about 16,000 steps. "They're like triathletes for their whole lives."

The average American, however, only manages about 6,000 daily steps.

Smoking is rare among the Tsimane, who number about 16,000. So are fatty foods. As much as 72 per cent of their calories come from high-fibre plants: plantain, rice, manioc, corn, nuts and fruits. Wild game – monkey, deer, rodents, birds, pig – makes up 17 per cent. The remaining percentage comes from freshwater fish, mostly piranha and catfish.

Nevertheless, diet probably isn't the biggest factor in their remarkable heart health, Thomas said. When North Americans follow a low-fat diet, he pointed out, "they still tend to get atherosclerosis [hardening arteries]."

Story continues below advertisement

Thomas and colleagues are combing through genetic samples from the Tsimane to look for markers that might explain their resistance to heart disease. But so far, the evidence suggests that the Tsimane may be as physiologically vulnerable to heart disease as everyone else. Their cholesterol levels have crept up since 2011, coinciding with the arrival of outboard motors that have given them quicker access to market towns – and processed foods – with less paddling by raft or canoe.

Until more data comes to light, Thomas said, the protective effect of exercise is the biggest takeaway from the study. Even if North Americans never achieve the Tsimane's level of physical activity, getting more daily exercise may be enough to delay the onset of heart disease, "so instead of getting a heart attack at 60, we get it at 90."

Probiotic foods can offer health benefits by promoting the activity of good bacteria in your gut. Leslie Beck explains what to add to your diet so you don't miss out.

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies