What we can learn from the Bolivian Tsimané People

My personal quest
30 years ago, at the age of 20, I lost someone very dear to me - my 44-year-old mother-in-law, who tragically lost her battle with cancer. The feeling of powerlessness I experienced at that time left such an impression on me that it prompted me to embark on a quest: a quest to find out what lies at the heart of serious illnesses such as cancer and, contrary to that, what lies at the heart of a healthy, long and happy life.

At first, I assumed being struck by such illnesses was merely a matter of bad luck. Later on, I started making the connection with healthy eating and exercising habits. Recently, I learned that a balanced mind and fulfilling relationships can also have a huge impact.

The revelation
A couple of weeks ago, I read an article by Stefaan Houblou on the Bolivian Tsimané People - on how and why the members of this tribe hardly ever become seriously ill. When I finished reading the article, the last pieces of my puzzle fell into place!

Between 2004 and 2015, researchers and doctors made their way through the Amazon rainforests to find and visit 85 villages of the Tsimané indigenous South Americans. What they discovered on their expedition can prove to be of vital importance for us Westerners, if we want to live healthy, long and happy lives.

Researching the Tsimané way of life
Around 10,000 Tsimané people live in small communities along the Maniqui River, and they still live their lives the way we Westerners used to live ours 1000 or even 10.000 years ago. They don't live in stone houses, but in thatched huts with no electricity or modern conveniences. They spend most of every day hunting, fishing, farming and gathering wild fruits and nuts, and having chatting conversations with each other.

Fascinatingly enough, as a result of this pre-industrial lifestyle, the Tsimané have hardly any hardening of the arteries. Heart attacks and strokes - the biggest killers in the US and Europe - are almost unknown amongst them!

Scientists measured heart disease risk by carrying out CT X-ray scans on 705 Tsimané adults aged 40 to 94 and found that almost 90% had no risk at all of heart disease. Even in old age, 65% of those aged over 75 had almost no risk. By contrast, in the US, a study of more than 6,800 people found that only 14% had no risk of heart disease at all, and 50% had moderate to high risk - 5 times as many as among the Tsimané People!

And it doesn't stop there: in the Tsimané population, heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose were also low.

The Tsimané People's well kept secrets
What is it then, that makes for the fact that the Tsimané People have the world's healthiest hearts?

First of all, their meals are made of rice, plantain, manioc, corn and nuts and fruits, with a small amount of wild game and fish. This diet - high in non-processed fibre-rich carbohydrates and low in saturated fats - stands in sharp contrast to the processed and packaged foods a lot of us Westerners live off.

Secondly, there is the people's daily dose of physical activity. The humble Tsimané live in close harmony with nature and each other, and compared to our sedentary lives in urban areas lead a highly active way of life: men spend an average of 6 to 7hours a day engaged in physical activity, while women are active for 4 to 6 hours. It is estimated that, overall, the Tsimané are inactive for only 10% of the day, unlike many people in industrialised societies who are often sedentary for more than 50% their waking hours!

Thirdly, and most remarkably, comes the interesting observation put forward by scientist Gregory Thomas: "Furthermore, the Tsimané live their lives in small communities." In other words: they have very active social lives. And this is crucial information! Science has shown that the way in which our nervous system and hormone levels function has hardly changed at all in the last 100.000 years. This, in turn, entails that our basic human needs haven't changed much either, in spite of the huge leaps forward in terms of civilization and technology. And the core human needs that needed to be fulfilled all those many, many years ago in order for humans to survive and thrive, still have to be fulfilled today: recognition, care, respect, appreciation and love.

The surprising power of going back to basics
If you ask me, the most inspiring one of Tsimané People's three well kept secrets has to be this last one!

Socially interacting and connecting from heart to heart, in exactly the way the Tsimané People have always done, is just as important as a healthy lifestyle with a pure diet and lots of physical activity if a healthy, long and happy life is what one is after.

And in our highly complex and constantly evolving business world, companies might be investing a lot in helping their people stay healthy, but they do this first and foremost by focusing on stimulating a more active lifestyle and creating healthy eating habits.

So if we look at our Tsimané story, we have to come to the realisation that this will simply not be enough in the long term: we equally have to start focusing on going back to basics! Back to our core human needs: to recognition, care, respect, appreciation, love and connecting from heart to heart… because this will be the only way for us all to become truly healthy and strong (both physically and mentally) and to experience true inner happiness.

The answer I was after. Your answer too?
I am so grateful for having come across this fascinating article! For me, the story of the Tsimané People has confirmed that I am on the right track.

It has confirmed that it is no coincidence that the poor health I used to have has developed into a very strong and resilient state of being.

It has confirmed that I have been making the right decisions on my quest to create and stimulate an all-round healthy lifestyle for me, my family, my employees and everyone who is dear to me.

So how about you? Is it time for you to start making some vital changes in your lifestyle too?

Be inspired by the Tsimané People and take your first step now: don't wait any longer to grow into the healthy, happy and successful person you can be!

Nathalie Arteel
Leading Angel at the Arteel Group
Motivational Expert








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HR News: What we can learn from the Bolivian Tsimané People
What we can learn from the Bolivian Tsimané People
HR News
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