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World’s “healthiest hearts” found in monkey and piranha-eating Bolivian tribe

A team of researchers has found the world’s healthiest hearts belong to the Bolivian Tsimane people.

According to a new study published in The Lancet, the Tsimane have the lowest rates of heart disease ever measured. In addition, they are five times less likely to develop coronary atherosclerosis – hardening of arteries – than people in the U.S.

The Tsimane people live in thatched huts in the Bolivian jungle and lead an active lifestyle that includes hunting, foraging and a little farming.

There are around 16,000 Tsimane living near the Maniqui River in the Amazon rainforest of the Bolivian lowlands. For the study, the research team visited 85 villages and measured 705 adults finding that 85 percent had no risk of heart disease.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, so solving heart disease matters. In 2015, over 8 million people died because of it.

The Tsimane live as “hunter-gatherers” similar to our ancestors of long ago. The researchers believe the combination of diet and lifestyle may hold the key to the community’s incredible hearts.

However, before you try to replicate their diet, you may want to consider what’s on the menu.

According to the Washington Post, the Tsimane diet partly consists of money, wild pig and piranha. And BBC noted that tapir and capybara – the world’s largest rodent – frequently appear on their plates too. The rest of their diet comes from foraged fruit and nuts and harvested corn and rice.

In the so-called “civilised” world that we live in, we are often cautioned against the dangers of unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles. Devices such as Fitbits have given us the rather arbitrary goal of doing 10,000 steps a day, but the Tsimane manage many more.

The study found that the men average 17,000 steps a day and the men 16,000. Even people over 60 clock in over 15,000. To give you some perspective, yesterday I did 5,000 and called it a day.

The researchers don’t expect us to throw away our iPads and live off the land overnight, but they do believe that we can learn from the Tsimane. They suggest that by exercising more, not smoking and making our diets a priority, we can all have healthier hearts.

Tim Chico, consultant cardiologist and reader in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, told The Independent that we shouldn’t “romanticise the Tsimate existence”, adding that “two thirds of them suffer intestinal worms and they have a very hard life, without fresh water, sewerage or electricity”.

The choices presented at each extreme aren’t appealing.

On the one hand, there’s a comfy modern life and a bad ticker. On the other, a great heart and a life without toilets or electricity.

Surely, somewhere in the middle is place to be. It’s up to each of us to find that healthy balance.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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