Understanding the lifestyles that our ancestors evolved for can give us a useful perspective on the types of nutrients (physical, dietary, social, emotional, etc…) that might help us to reach our own optimal health in this modern era.
A big reason that we lean into the study of play so much is because it’s a profoundly powerful learning system that exists to drive us towards our most genetically relevant skills and abilities. Children climb, jump, roughhouse, throw and creatively use objects like sticks and stones because those physical abilities have been crucial for the survival of our species for an incredibly long time.
In fact, they have been so key to our evolution that when we engage in them, our brains actually release reward chemicals so that we’ll be more likely to repeat them in the future.
Yet biology and evolution are incredibly complex and when it comes to human health, it can be easy to fall into the trap of reductionism. There will never be any diet or movement routine that can act as a definitive cure-all for the entire population. Even routines that work wonders for one person can be ineffective or detrimental to another person, so it’s highly important to keep an objective mindset and pay attention to nuance when looking to build a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
The fact that our evolutionary heritage is both highly relevant and staggeringly complex means that we should look to experts like our guest Spencer Wells to draw insights from that can help ground our understanding and make better decisions about our health as modern day humans.
Spencer is a population geneticist who spent 10 years as the director of the Genographic Project at National Geographic, which aimed to create a picture of how our ancestors populated the planet by analyzing DNA samples from around the world. We brought him on today to talk about human evolution and how we can look to our past to improve our present and future.
Outside of human evolution, Spencer is also well versed in immunology and virology so throughout the conversation we’ll visit the subject of Covid-19 and the role that disease in general has played on society throughout the ages.
This turned into a long chat, so we’ve split it into two parts and will be releasing the second half in the coming weeks, so don’t forget to scroll down and sign up for our weekly newsletter so you can be notified when part 2 drops!
It’s great to have a professional on the podcast that can offer such great insights into human evolution, so if you enjoyed this episode and want to dive deeper into human evolution, anthropology, genetics or the coronavirus pandemic, let us know! You can also check out our related content section to browse through past episode that cover similar topics.