I just finished reading The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease, by Daniel Lieberman, a professor at Harvard. I recommend it to anyone interested in either human evolution or disease. Lieberman does a great job of describing, in laymen’s terms, the evolution of primates up through modern man. How various species, including Neanderthals, lived at the same time, but man won out.
Modern man evolved to be a hunter-gatherer, walking long distances, living in small groups, eating various animals, fruits, vegetables. The sweetest thing he had was honey, and not a lot of that. When man learned to farm, 10,000 years ago, it changed everything. He had enough food, but it was generally carbohydrates, so he was typically malnourished. And he had greater starvation after droughts. He actually got shorter over time. But he had more children, so the population took off.
Now we can live with very little physical stress, with an abundance of food, processed and sweet. Our bodies are not adapted to that. So many diseases we now suffer from – Diabetes, obesity, depression, arthritis, osteoporosis, some types of cancer, etc. – didn’t exist. If ancient man got past childbirth, he lived about as long as we do now, but in better health.
There are some things we can do to regain the health of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We can eat more fruits and vegetables, less processed food. We can get more exercise – especially important for children, as it affects their bones for the rest of their life. We can even help our eyesight by getting kids to spend more time outdoors.