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February 16, 2019

Running at slow speeds is linked to reduced heart disease

If you come face to face with a lion should you run or freeze? The answer depends on who you are and what weapons you have at your disposal. If you are a baby under six months of age there is not much you can do than just be. From birth, the job of a baby is to grow rapidly; at six months they are double the birth weight.

So a baby till then is only concerned with the food source and a place to sleep, the wider environment is ignored. But thereafter they begin to take notice, struggle to sit up eventually toddling and walking. The modern adult desires to reverse this childhood development.

A hard week at work is crowned only if you can slouch on the couch for hours, trying to reconcile the contradictory world we live in; ‘Why is it that what is good for a baby becomes bad for an adult’?

An answer to that question perhaps lies in the understanding of the evolution of human beings species. A lion chasing prey can run twice as fast as the Olympic sprint champion, but only over a short distance. Up until two million years ago this information was critical to survival. To get meat, man relied on other animals such as lions killing it then making do with leftovers. Eating meat therefore relied on having an agreement on when the lion was done. A miscalculation would lead to an athletic test. But around two million years ago, ancient man, although still fairly small in stature figured out how to hunt herds of animals chasing and herding them in such a way that they could select one for the kill.

One scientist theorises that early humans would climb and sit in a tree waiting for animals to come by, probably for water, and then spear them at point blank range. That evolutionary innovation changed human beings allowing them to eat more protein and energy dense food, grow taller and bigger.

It also meant that their lives no longer depended on lions’ shopping habits. Rather than have to look after lions they were now competition at best or even part of what could be killed, but not eaten now that there was enough food. It should therefore not surprise that the Kenya Wildlife Service reports that Kenya only has about 2,000 lions remaining in the whole country. An estimated 100 lions are lost every year because of conflict between the lion’s and human’s livestock based habitat. At that rate we may have no lions in Kenya by 2030.

At the same time we continue to eat more and more calories per day on average but exercise much less than our forefathers. Eating a diet rich in nutrients is an efficient way to eat, compare how long a cow has to eat compared to a human and you get the point.

The problem is knowing when to stop. In the case of humans an increasing rich diet has become associated with increasing heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, grouped as non-communicable diseases. One condition that underlies these diseases is obesity, having too much fat in the wrong places.

Apart from the fat we can see on a person, doctors are concerned about the fat that is in side of us, in the blood stream and embedded in various tissues. The word used for these fats is ‘lipids’. Together with carbohydrates and proteins lipids are a key component of each living cell.

The major lipid that a layperson who is keen on their health recognizes is cholesterol usually as a thing to be avoided. Many supermarket products are proud to state that they have no cholesterol. Yet cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and is essential to the integrity of each body cell and is key in the formation of bile acids, necessary for digestion, and in oestrogen and testosterone, the female and male hormone respectively. Older scientific literature was concerned that increased dietary intake of foods high in cholesterol was directly related to an individual’s blood cholesterol levels.

But current evidence suggests that it is not as simple as that and people need to take into account other factors such as a family history, their overall nutrient intake, the amount of exercise they have regularly than just focusing on the amount of meat they eat in isolation.

Having a high cholesterol level usually does not cause any symptoms and so a cholesterol test is an important tool in preventing heart disease from developing. Checking your cholesterol levels is recommended if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or diabetes, are overweight and do little exercise.

True danger now lurks inside our body rather than outside. Interesting that the remedy remains the same, run. And it does not have to be a sprint; even moving at slow speeds is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

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