Principles of an Ancestral Lifestyle
Updated: May 30
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There is so much more to health than just diet. Our lifestyles of course impact our overall health! I talk a lot about ancestral eating, which is a HUGE piece to the puzzle, but there is so much more that impacts our health and quality of life! These lifestyle factors might be a little out of the norm, but they are actually biologically appropriate for the human species.
I’ve begun to think of most human beings as living in captivity, like an animal in a zoo. While our normal everyday environments meet all of our physical needs, we’re not as healthy as we would be “in the wild”. From a young age, most people are put into preschool, then elementary school, where they are asked to sit still for hours a day indoors and look at things a few feet from their eyes. This continues throughout middle and high school, and for many people continues into the workforce, where we end up sitting in an office indoors for hours on end staring at screens or paper relatively close to our faces. When we get home in the evenings, many people eat a processed dinner, lounge, and continue looking at screens. What is missing? A lot! Sunlight, connection to nature, movement, and a handful of other factors.
Here are SIX principles of health that are important to an ancestral lifestyle:
Food is of course very important. Food nourishes and fuels our bodies. Food has a huge impact on our overall health and physical body. Without good food, our bodies simply would not function like they need to. The sad truth is that most Americans eat mostly processed food and/or food that has been sprayed with pesticides. I grew up thinking I ate a healthy diet, but a typical meal probably consisted of G.M.O. chicken (full of hormones), canned green beans, (sprayed with pesticides), a slice of whole bread (made using enriched processed flour instead of real grains, seed oils, dough conditioner, preservatives, and natural flavors), and margarine (full of seed oils). At a glance, this meal may look healthy (if not terribly bland), but it’s not made with real, whole foods! There’s a ton to say here, so visit my post here on What is Ancestral Eating to learn more!
Movement is another factor that has a HUGE impact on our physical and emotional health. Movement is not valued in mainstream American culture. Sure, it’s recognized that exercise is good for you, and you should exercise for at least 30 minutes 3x a week. BUT 30 minutes of movement does not make up for 8 hours of sitting. Most people do not move enough! We don’t walk enough, we don’t squat enough, we don’t hang enough. We underuse and therefore loose muscle tone and flexibility overtime because we do not get enough daily movement.
Even the most active people oftentimes are not moving in the most biologically appropriate ways, meaning, they wear clothes, especially shoes that limit or distort movement, and we live in too comfortable environments that do not encourage natural movement (I.E. getting up and down off the ground, bending and squatting frequently, and etc.) Imagine if you lived in a place with no chairs, no raised bed, and cooked on a fire on the ground. As you age, you would not lose the ability to get up and down on the ground. Your physical health and ability to move easily would not disappear nearly as quickly as most aging Americans experience!
A lifestyle of healthy movement can prevent foot, knee, and back pain. It can prevent and heal pelvic floor dysfunction. Movement can and does prolong life and increase the quality!
There is a LOT to be said on this topic. Katy Bowman’s books are EXCELLENT resources! This is her most recent book, but really any of her books are excellent. She also has a podcast full of information.
See my blog post here on Why you Need to Make the Shift to Barefoot Shoes.
In my daily life, I try to walk as much as possible. I do not have a set goal, but many people aim for 10,000 steps. I go barefoot or wear barefoot shoes. I try to sit on the ground, as I have to use my muscles to hold myself up, as opposed to lounging for hours. I strength train at least 3x a week to build and maintain muscle (although not as much in pregnancy. See my post here on surviving the first trimester). When working, I try to stand, sit on the ground, lay on my belly, and just change positions frequently, so that I’m not sitting or even lounging for hours on end. I also garden which involves lots of bending, squatting, digging, shoveling, and sometimes lifting unusually shaped objects. To summarize, I move as much as possible in as many different ways as possible, focusing on not restricting natural movement with restrictive shoes or too much time in comfy chairs.
Please do not misunderstand and read that you should never rest. Rest is vitally important, and I usually spend most of my evenings lounging on the couch. However, most Americans live a lifestyle where they are almost in a constant state of allowing their body to physically rest. I would highly encourage you to squeeze in as much natural movement as possible, read one of Katy’s books, and then figure out what works for you!
Getting sunlight throughout the day is something that is a little counter-cultural right now, but hear me out! Sunlight does two big things: produces vitamin D, and helps our circadian rhythm. To do these 2 things, you need to actually be outside to receive the benefits. Windows filter out most of the UVB, which you need to produce vitamin D and regulate your circadian rhythm.
About 42% of adults, 50% of children aged 1-5 and 70% of children aged 6-11 in the US are deficient in vitamin D.
While you can buy vitamin D in supplement form, it’s always best to get nutrients from whole foods or nature. Supplements are not well regulated, and so even if they do contain the actual amount of nutrients that they claim, there’s no guarantee that your body will actually be able to absorb the nutrients. And why pay money for a supplement, when you can go outside every day and receive what you need for free from the sun?
About ⅓ or roughly 40% of American adults struggle with sleep or insomnia.
Circadian health is hugely overlooked! Our bodies are naturally designed to release certain hormones throughout the day to wake us up, and then help us sleep in the evenings (cortisol in the morning, and melatonin at night). However, these hormones are released based on cues from the outside world (AKA light). Blue light, which comes from screens or artificial light, sends the signal to our bodies that it’s the middle of the day (wake up!) And a dark room makes our bodies think that the sun is going down and it’s time for sleep. Human beings are meant to rise and sleep with the sun. The best thing you can do for your body is start the day with the morning sun. A minimum of 30 minutes of sun throughout the day is also beneficial. In the evenings, stay away from blue light. Use red lights or candlelight. If you are going to use blue light (which most people including myself often do), purchase a good pair of blue light-blocking glasses to wear. Even then, try and put away all screens about an hour before you fall asleep. Read a book by red light or candlelight. It will be nearly impossible for your body to not fall into a sound sleep!
What about sunburn?
There’s a huge push today for people to stay out of the sun and always wear sunscreen. I’m not anti-sunscreen, but you should know that sunscreen, like windows, blocks many of the benefits of sunlight. To avoid burning (which causes sun damage), start by getting the morning sun every day. Do not spend too much time in direct sunlight during the middle of the day, and if that’s unavoidable, wear protective clothing, like a good sun hat and a sun shirt. Cutting out seed oils will also help prevent burning. And if you do still feel the need to wear sunscreen, I would recommend a good brand that is mineral sunscreen instead of a chemical sunscreen.
4. Clean, natural living
Clean or natural living can mean many things to different people. However, I’m using the term to refer to using clean household products.
Did you know that most household products contain chemicals that can disrupt our endocrine system, otherwise known as endocrine disruptors? Our body's endocrine system produces and controls the hormones released. These chemicals are present in our cleaning products, hygiene items, beauty products, and other items such as candles and aerosol sprays. Most Americans today live in environments FULL of these endocrine disruptors, making it very difficult for our body's to keep hormones balanced.
While it is intimidating to think about switching out all your household and personal items to be non-toxic, it's not that difficult (speaking from personal experience). The three main things to watch out for are fragrance, parabens, and sulfates. These can be avoided by reading the ingredients on the back of products. Luckily, today most items have a "non-toxic", "clean", or "natural" option. If you're really gung-ho, throw out all those products and make or buy new ones! However, if you're like me, and not wanting to waste the money you spent on those products, start slowly. The one thing I would say to go ahead and toss is any kind of air freshener or candle. As you use up one product (say deodorant), replace it with a "non-toxic" "clean, or "natural" product. Or look up a recipe to make your own to save some money and be 100% sure of the ingredients. Watch out for marketing schemes, as some brands are not actually free of harmful ingredients. The most common culprit is artificial fragrance. Even essential oils can be harmful if they are low-quality.
To learn more, read my post 6 Ways to Reduce Everyday Exposure to Toxins.
Community is a principle that many people, including myself, struggle with. Human beings are pack animals. We’re meant to live in groups, or a small tight community. That’s where we thrive. If you doubt me, think about a time when you felt unliked by a group of people that you wanted to be a part of. If you’re like most people, this probably produced some or a lot of anxiety! That’s because in our instinctual brains, being excluded from the group equals death. Humans need others to survive.
While most people recognize that friends and family are good and necessary to our quality of life, we don’t prioritize community. Our society is set up in a way that minimizes community. Think about the TV show Friends (or another similar show). While it’s a funny show, most people also like the show because the people in it are living in community. They’re sharing their lives together (maybe sometimes a little too much), and that’s how we’re meant to live.
I’m not saying join a commune, but I am saying seek out an intentional community. A community that shares your values, that you can rely on, and that you live life with. If you’ve ever been a part of a close community, you know how good it is. How full life can become. Many people find their community through a homeschool network, a sports team, or a church or small group. My best advice is to do what you love and see who else is doing the same thing.
6. Slow living
Slow living is another concept that is slightly counter-cultural. American culture values hard work, hustle, and productivity, and while these things are not inherently bad, I think it’s possible to be productive and work hard while also balancing rest, community, family, and slow food. Slow living allows for more time with family and friends, slow food (a garden and/or foods made from scratch), hobbies and games, and so much more.
What slow living boils down to for me is prioritizing people and health over productivity and money.
For example, this might mean choosing a job with better hours and work-life boundaries, but maybe less pay. It might mean that one parent stays home with children so that they don’t have to be hustled off to daycare every day. It might mean homeschooling. I might mean skipping a few extracurricular activities in the evenings or just being very particular about which ones you or your children participate in. Slow living looks different to everyone, but again, it just means prioritizing health (good whole foods, sleep, sun, movement) and real community (time with real friends and family) OVER productivity and money.
I know for me and my husband when looking at how we wanted to live our lives, we did not want the standard American family and lifestyle. We did not want to both work full-time jobs out of the home. We did not want to hustle our kids off to daycare at young ages, not see them for 8 hours, and then after daycare or school hustle off to other activities or commitments. We did not want to have to go through a fast food drive-through because we didn’t have time to make a whole food meal at home. We did not want to spend all day in office buildings away from our loved ones, working hard for more money to drive nicer cars and live in nicer houses.
What we did do was choose (years before we started trying to have kids) that I (Marie) would stay at home when we had a baby. We waited literally years until my husband had a job with a salary that could support a family. We drove older cars that we paid for in cash. We purchased a very small house on a small piece of property that was affordable to us, and are raising as much food as we can on our tiny property. We purchased clothing, furniture, and other household items used. We learned on youtube how to do home projects and repairs. My husband learned how to fix common issues with our cars. We choose to grow and prepare our own food, keep our children at home, and live slowly and intentionally.
I of course recognize that this is not possible for everyone, but everyone can take steps to slow down and live more intentionally. Only you can make changes in your life.
Want to learn more about living more in tune with nature and living an ancestral lifestyle? Explore the rest of my blog! See my post on 5 books that led me to ancestral eating. Or How to make Elderberry Syrup at home! Or even 4 Tips for Building a Budget-Friendly Garden.