The Secret to a Healthy Heart? Ask the Tsimané

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-18 07:45

Scientists have found the secret to a healthy heart by studying the lifestyle and habits of the Tsimané people, an indigenous group living in the Bolivian Amazon.

According to a new study, the Tsimané people may have the healthiest hearts in the world. The Tsimané have a diet composed of unprocessed fiber-rich carbohydrates, very low saturated fats, fresh fish, and wild game. They spend a large chunk of their waking hours on activities like hunting, clearing the forest, and picking berries. In fact, they only spend 10% of the day in inactivity.

Plus, they don't smoke.

Of course, their lifestyle doesn't have a lot in common with ours. The Tsimané live in thatched huts with no electricity, and they have none of the modern appliances and electronics we take for granted. They hardly eat any processed food, if at all. They are also probably more active, even in old age. Researchers say that this lifestyle has enabled them to have healthiest hearts ever studied. Things like heart attacks and strokes are practically unknown to the Tsimané.

A Young, Healthy Heart in an 80-Year-Old

The researchers conducted their study over an 11-year period. They analyzed heart disease risk among 85 Tsimané villages through the use of CT scans.

The results showed that the Tsimané had very healthy hearts, with hardly any hardening in the arteries (atherosclerosis). In fact, there was an 80-year-old Tsimané man whose heart was as healthy as that of an average 50-year-old American man. About 65% of older people over the age of 75 showed little to no risk of developing heart disease. Only about 8% of people in this age bracket showed moderate to high risks.

In other parts of the world, this would be amazing. But in the Bolivian Amazon, great cardiovascular health is just something that most people have.

Having a healthy heart is common in the Tsimané. “Most of the Tsimané are able to live their entire life without developing any coronary atherosclerosis. This has never been seen in any prior research,” says Gregory Thomas, one of the researchers.

The Tsimane also have low blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, and blood glucose.

Move Over, Mediterranean Diet

Ditch those unhealthy sources of carbs for corn, rice, and manioc.

The Tsimané diet may be the new Mediterranean diet.

Of course, copying the Tsimané lifestyle exactly may be unrealistic for a lot of us that have lived a more modern lifestyle. We may therefore never be able to have hearts as healthy as the Tsimané's. However, we can copy certain aspects of their lifestyle to make our hearts healthier than they are now. For example, we can stay away from smoking. We can also incorporate more exercise into our daily routine. Of course, the diet is also an important component. If we stay away from processed carbs and high-fat foods, our hearts will be thanking us for it.

The road to a healthy heart begins with a reevaluation of the food you have in the kitchen. If you find a way to be more physically active as well, you're on your way to lowering your risks for heart disease.

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