Yep, we did all right for a while there, all the way up until about 7,000 years ago. Then we got into things like farming, the wheel and started to use horses for the heavy duty work we no longer felt like doing. But comfort had a cost – studies show that our bone density has decreased considerably compared to our Neolithic ancestors.
It’s not been known among scientists until now, what actually caused this decline in our bone strength. Did it have anything to do with diet, with what we ate back then? Or did it have something to do with our tendencies to go from living like hunting and gathering nomads to instead live together in small villages – also known as urbanization?
Well, it was our taste for agriculture and the possibility to work less that caused the downgrade, starting with the femur and tibia bones of the leg. The humerus bone in the upper arm also lost density, but not as quickly as the leg bones did. This very difference occurring in separate parts of the body rules out that the increasing weakness had anything to do with a lack of protein or calcium, according to Dr. Steven Churchill, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Since 2,000 years ago we’ve pretty much kept the same bone density as during the Roman period, and the study can only provide evidence that these results apply to Europeans. More exactly, 1,842 individuals from a time period that stretches between the Stone age (Neolithic and Paleolithic periods) and the 20th century.
The study was done by X-raying the bones, and then making silicone putty molds that depicted the bone surface. In a computer analysis of the data they then could point to the time periods in our human history where the bone structures got thinner.
It turned out that it was not just black or white in discerning that we didn’t move as much any longer – rather the researchers could detect exactly what movements we didn’t use as much as before. Strength related to running or long distance walking had changed a lot more than strength connected to movements such as lifting, bending or pivoting.
But hey – there’s hope! Hear what Dr. Ruff has to say: “There was a lot of evidence that earlier humans had stronger bones, and that weigh-bearing exercise in modern humans prevents bone loss”. Dr. Christopher Ruff, director of the Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution, at John Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, led the whole study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 18. So, evidently, we just need to keep moving those muscles and make good use of them, to start gaining back some of what’s been lost to European history’s most comfy lifestyle ever seen.