An 80 year-old Amazonian is healthier than the average Westerner in their 50’s

we can learn some great lessons in heart disease prevention from the Tsimane people of the Amazon


Although perhaps you aren’t going to move to the wilderness, live in a thatched hut and start hunting and gathering, we can learn some great lessons in heart disease prevention from the Tsimane people of the Amazon jungle, according to a recent study.

As well as their healthy heart condition, these indigenous people of the Bolivian Amazon region also have low blood pressure, low blood glucose and low cholesterol.

An 80 year-old Tsimane person has the same vascular age as an average westerner in their 50’s. So how do they achieve these results?

The Tsimane lifestyle suggests that a diet low in saturated fats and high in non-processed, fibre-rich carbohydrates is the place to start. Along with also eating small amounts of wild game and fish, not smoking and being active throughout the day could help prevent hardening in the arteries of the heart.

Now, wild game is a little hard to find on the average Aussie menu, but we can try to include other factors into our lifestyles that provide equivalent benefits to those that the Tsimane enjoy.

The researchers behind the report say that the loss of these subsistence diets and lifestyle play a large part in modern health conditions, and could be classed as new risk factor when it comes to heart disease.

Hunting, fishing, gathering, and farming activities keep the men working for six to seven hours a day, and the women working four to six hours a day. And the Tsimane people spend only 10 percent of their waking hours being inactive. That compares with a 54 percent inactivity level in people in industrialized nations such as Australia.

The message we can draw from this is to keep moving, and eat well – low cholesterol and high-fibre. The Tismane people’s plant-rich diet, which is 72 percent carbohydrates, includes non-processed foods such as rice, corn, nuts, and fruits. Their diet is about 14 percent protein, coming mostly from animal meat.

Here in Australia however, it’s really the opposite of that these days. Poor diet and inactivity are the highest risk factors for heart disease. A study of heart attack patients across 52 countries found that hardening of the arteries can be avoided for most people.

The main heart disease risk factors for people in industrialised nations such as Australia are smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes.

The study indicates that most of the Tsimane are able to live their entire lives without developing any coronary atherosclerosis at all, which is extremely unusual for our Western populations these days.

Expert reaction to the study shows the Tsimane lifestyle is much like that of our ancestors, their diet is not dissimilar to many Westerners, but their physical activity habits could not be more different.

Says Prof. Naveed Sattar, University of Glasgow, “Simply put, eating a healthy diet very low in saturated fat and full of unprocessed products, not smoking and being active life-long, is associated with…the lowest risk of heart disease.”

This study provides strong support for well-known health messages relating to diet and physical activity. Simply put, eat well, keep moving and don’t smoke.