There is an indigenous tribe in the Bolivian Amazon call the Tsimane whose lifestyle appears to contribute not only to healthy hearts but also healthier brains that age much more slowly than those of Western populations. A study published in 2017 had found that the Tsimane had the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population ever recorded. They rarely suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes, and they don’t smoke cigarettes.
A new study on the Tsimane published May 26, 2021, in the Journal of Gerontology, has also found that their brains are shrinking 70% more slowly than those of industrialized populations in the U.S. and Europe. Brain shrinkage, or atrophy, happens with aging, but faster shrinkage is correlated with higher risks of dementia, cognitive and physical difficulties. People in the U.S. and Europe are living longer but being diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s at increasing rates.
Even though Westerners have access to the most advanced medical care, they are sedentary and have diets that are high in sugar and saturated fats. The Tsimane, on the other hand, are physically active for most of the day, spending their time hunting, gathering, fishing, and farming. Their diets are mostly vegetables, fish, and lean meats. 72% of their food consists of complex carbohydrates high in fiber such as rice, plantain, manioc, corn, nuts and fruits. Only 14% of their intake is protein, coming mostly from fish and wild animal meat; 14% of their calories are in fat. They take in very little sugar or preservatives.
It is likely not a coincidence that the Tsimane have excellent heart health as well as healthier brains. It is understood by experts that a lifestyle that is good for your heart will also be good for your brain. This includes regular exercise, not smoking, and eating a mostly plant diet high in fiber and low in sugar and saturated fat. You don’t have to move to the Amazon to become healthier, but you do need to recognize that while technological advancements and processed foods have made our lives easier, they come at a cost. If you sit in front of a computer, watch hours of TV, or stare at a phone screen all day, eating pre-packaged meals that you pop in the microwave, your heart, brain, and overall health suffer. Make sure you get out of your desk chair or off the couch regularly throughout the day and get outside as much as you can. Include plenty of vegetables in meals that you cook yourself, considering it a bonus if you’re able to grow some of those vegetables in your garden, and stay away from the junk food. Live a lifestyle that will benefit your brain, your heart, your body, as well as your soul and spirit.