RSSThe hunter-gatherer fitness plan

Posted on Mon, 15 Aug 11

The hunter-gatherer fitness plan

For approximately 84,000 generations we lived as physically active hunter-gatherers. However the agricultural revolution (350 generations ago), industrial revolution (7 generations ago) and the digital age (2 generations ago) has turned us into a sedentary, indoor dwelling culture. Perhaps we should take some fitness pointers from our ancestors?   

“Our innate exercise capabilities and requirements that evolved via natural selection over thousands of millennia remain essentially the same as for our Stone Age ancestors” comment a group of leading health scientists in a recent scientific review entitled “Achieving Hunter-gatherer Fitness in the 21st Century.”

They argue that an optimal fitness regime should be in line with our traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Reviewing historical records and studies of the few remaining hunter-gather tribes this is the advice the team came up with:

1. High levels of activity

A large amount of background daily light-to-moderate activity such as walking was required. Although the distances covered would have varied widely, most estimates indicate average daily distances covered were in the range of 6 to 16 km. The hunter-gatherers’ daily energy expenditures for physical activity typically were at least 800 to 1200 kcal, or about 3 to 5 times more than the average American adult today.

2. Rest

Hard days were typically followed by an easier day. Ample time for rest, relaxation, and sleep was generally available to ensure complete recovery after strenuous exertion.

3. Natural surfaces

Walking and running were done on natural surfaces such as grass and dirt, often over uneven ground. Concrete and asphalt surfaces are largely foreign to our genetic identity.

4. Interval training

Interval training sessions, involving intermittent bursts of moderate- to high-level intensity exercise with intervening periods of rest and recovery, should be performed once or twice per week.

5. Resistance and flexibility

Regular sessions of weight training and other strength and flexibility building exercises are essential for optimizing musculoskeletal and general health and fitness. These need to be performed at least 2 or 3 times per week, for at least 20 to 30 minutes per session.

6. Outdoors

Virtually all of the exercise was done outdoors in the natural world.

7. Social

Much of the physical activity was done in context of a social setting (small bands of individuals out hunting or foraging). Exercising with one or more partners improves adherence and mood.

8. Everyone, forever 

Except for the very young and the very old, all individuals were, by necessity, physically active almost their entire lives.



O'Keefe JH, Vogel R, Lavie CJ, Cordain L. Achieving hunter-gatherer fitness in the 21(st) century: back to the future. Am J Med. 2010 Dec;123(12):1082-6.

Tags: Hunter-gatherer, Physical Activity, Fitness, Exercise

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