The ancient history behind your new healthy habits

The ancient history behind your new healthy habits
Image via Shutterstock.

By Danielle Hansen


Centuries before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, Indigenous peoples had refined natural ways to become and stay healthy. Nowadays, modern medicine is discovering that the traditional practices and lifestyles of Native Americans improve your health. Before modern conveniences, here’s what they knew about vitality, health, and a better night’s sleep.

Move

Native Americans were constantly on the move— foraging, playing. Any light activity two minutes of every hour will lessen your risk of dying prematurely by 30 percent.

Get outside

Lift your face to the morning sky and greet the day. Even a few minutes outdoors in the morning sets our circadian rhythm, manages weight, and improves sleep and vitality. Discover a nearby park. Our response to nature is powerful. Just a few minutes viewing trees, flowers, or water induces relaxation and reduces anger, anxiety, and pain.

Go barefoot

While you’re at the park, take your shoes off! Though not fully studied and incorporated into medical practice, some people report feeling relaxed and experiencing less pain, anxiety, and depression from stimulating their bare feet by connecting to soil.

Hydrate

Native Americans didn’t tote water bottles, so finding water in a lake or stream meant “time to drink up.” Drink enough water so that it flushes your system. Two 8-ounce glasses may be enough for one sitting. That can easily add up to the recommended daily intake of 64 ounces.

Fast

What about eating? Native Americans would fast intermittently because of the inconsistent availability of food. Extensive research links this pattern of eating to decreases in LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammation, heart disease, blood sugar levels, and diabetes. Popular regimens include fasting for 16 hours and limiting eating within eight hours, or a 14-hour fast followed by a 10-hour eating window.

Squat

As in, for pooping. You probably already knew that, but toilet designers don’t. Find a product that wraps around your toilet and lifts your legs into a squatting position, or use a stack of phone books. We should squat more, anyway. Children do it naturally. Instead of bending over to pick up something, drop into a squat to build stronger back and leg muscles and more flexible joints.

Block the blue

Our circadian rhythm is tuned to day and night. The sun’s blue wavelengths block the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. But so does the blue light from energy-saving LEDs and electronic screens. Redder spectra after sundown, however, help us produce melatonin. So use your computer or phone’s night-light functions, or download an app such as Twilight or F.lux. At night indoors, use amber light bulbs, especially in children’s rooms. Or you can wear orange-tinted glasses at night. Sleep problems have been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

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