After 17 years as a practising Chartered Physiotherapist, completing an MSc as well as a Diploma in Medical Acupuncture, and having attended many further education courses on Physiotherapy related topics, I found myself earlier this year asking myself ‘what next?’.
Continuing professional development is very important to me both personally and professionally. However it was proving difficult to find courses and educational opportunities in physiotherapy either not already completed or relevant to my area of practice as a musculoskeletal specialist.
I have always had a keen interest in health in a broader sense, not just physical but also in relation to diet and nutrition, exercise as well as other lifestyle factors such as sleep, the role of sunlight, recreation, communication etc. All factors which can also have a profound impact on pain management and physical function which have helped me develop as a physiotherapist over the years.
This interest lead me to discover ancestral health science as a discipline and movement which is having a profound impact in many people's lives including my own. And so, earlier this year I began a coaching certification programme based on ancestral, otherwise referred to as Primal Health.
Ancestral health science is teaching us how to negate many of the negative health effects of modern living and, as far as practicable, restore a lifestyle similar to that lead by our pre agricultural ancestors. The health benefits can be immense as the ever increasing body of research and anecdotal evidence suggests.
Here are a few ancestral health principles:
Eat mainly plants and animals - the key is variety, plenty of leafy greens and brightly coloured vegetables, not too much fruit and good quality meats and fish. Don’t be afraid of eating good quality sources of fat.
Avoid most of what makes up the bulk of a typical western diet - most notably sugar and grain based products which have been referred to as ‘slow poison’ (increasing the risk of weight gain, systemic inflammation, digestive problems, cardiovascular and hormonal imbalance, fatigue, burnout, increased risk of heart disease and diet related cancers). Seed oils and of course trans fats found in processed foods should be avoided given their tendency to become oxidised thereby releasing harmful free radicals which harm cells and make heart disease amongst others more likely.
Move more frequently. It’s important to integrate more basic movement into the sedentary nature of modern routines. Even regular structured workouts do not protect against negative effects of prolonged sitting and desk jobs, the so called ‘active couch potato syndrome’.
It’s important to intermittently lift heavy things, or work against our own body weight using full body functional movements. These sessions should be brief but fairly intense. The benefits include muscle development, delayed aging and the support of organ development.
Get plenty of sleep. Darkness triggers the expression of genes which code for the hormone melatonin which when released causes sleepiness. This process is interrupted by artificial light, blue light and other forms of technology. Disturbed sleep causes impaired fat metabolism, elevated stress hormones, sugar cravings and morning fatigue. So minimise artificial light in the evenings, it’s better to read, socialise, take slow strolls and wind down in a simple, quiet, cool and dark sleep environment.
Ancestral health science is deep and and can be somewhat complex so I have found. Studying it in depth means having to understand ‘why’ not just ‘what’ needs to be done to live a better, healthier life. However the overriding principles, as you can see from above, are quite simple. With a bit of effort and support, new habits can be established and before long the benefits can be felt.
Many of my clients have already discussed some of the ancestral health principles with me and those who have started to adopt some in their lives have given me great feedback. As I learn more over the months to come, I hope to share more information which may help my clients live, feel and move better. After all that’s what physiotherapy is all about.
- Taubes, G. (2016). The case against sugar. Knopf.
- Taubes, G. (2013). The science of obesity: what do we really know about what makes us fat?. BMJ, 346(7904), 16-19.
- Schwartz, D. B., & Stapell, H. M. (2013). Modern Cavemen? Stereotypes and Reality of the Ancestral Health Movement. Journal of Evolution and Health, 1(1), 3.
- Sisson, M. (2012). The primal blueprint: reprogramme your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health and boundless energy. Random House.
- Eaton, S. B. (2006). The ancestral human diet: what was it and should it be a paradigm for contemporary nutrition?. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 65(1), 1-6.