What those with the world's healthiest hearts do differently

What those with the world's healthiest hearts do differently

Sarah Berry | smh.com.au | 23 March 2017

The majority of risk factors for heart disease are lifestyle related. And given that heart disease is the world's number one killer, researchers have been understandably keen to know what those with the world's lowest rates of it do differently.

So researchers from the University of New Mexico looked to the Bolivian Tsimane (pronounced chee-MAH-nay) tribe, who are considered to be a "yardstick for modern health". 

The community of 13,000, who live a largely traditional lifestyle, hunting and foraging and growing their own food, have the world's lowest reported rates of heart disease. 

So what exactly do they do differently? 

Well, quite a bit, the researchers found during the observational study published in the Lancet medical journal. 

They have a carbohydrate-rich diet (about 72 per cent of their energy intake) of rice, plantain (cooking bananas), manioc (a starchy root native to South America) and corn, as well as a small amount of wild game and fish, wild fruits and nuts. Unlike many Australians, who get more than one third of their daily energy intake from processed and junk foods, their diet is very low in sugar and in fat (only about 14 per cent of their energy intake comes from fat).

Bananas and corn feature in the diets of the Bolivian Tsimane tribe.

Bananas and corn feature in the diets of the Bolivian Tsimane tribe.

And unlike the average Australian adult who spends about 14 or more hours a day sitting (only 40 per cent of us manage the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day), the Tsimane are active for four to seven hours a day. Plus they don't smoke.

"Their lifestyle suggests that a diet low in saturated fats and high in non-processed fibre-rich carbohydrates, along with wild game and fish, not smoking and being active throughout the day could help prevent hardening in the arteries of the heart," said senior anthropology author, Professor Hillard Kaplan, University of New Mexico.

"The loss of subsistence diets and lifestyles could be classed as a new risk factor for vascular ageing and we believe that components of this way of life could benefit contemporary sedentary populations."  

Nearly nine out of 10 of the 705 Tsimane adults studied had no risk at all of heart disease while an 80-year-old Tsimane man has the vascular age of an American in his mid-50s.

Heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose among the Tsimane population were also low.

The researchers, who presented their findings at the American College of Cardiology conference, say we can all take a leaf from the book of Tsimane. 

"This study suggests that coronary atherosclerosis could be avoided if people adopted some elements of the Tsimane lifestyle, such as keeping their LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar very low, not smoking and being physically active," said senior cardiology author Dr Gregory S. Thomas.

"Most of the Tsimane are able to live their entire life without developing any coronary atherosclerosis. This has never been seen in any prior research. While difficult to achieve in the industrialised world, we can adopt some aspects of their lifestyle to potentially forestall a condition we thought would eventually affect almost all of us."

Image credits: unsplash.com

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