Sunday, June 21, 2009

40,000 years in a hostile environment

The plan for this weekend was a 20km run on Saturday, but the best laid plans of mice of men don't always pay off. I had car trouble on Friday night which I needed to deal with on Saturday morning and hence I needed to change my long run to Sunday morning. This also meant that I wouldn't have any running buddies on Sunday morning so would only have myself for company! It was actually quite hard to motivate myself to get out and run - the reason that finally drove me out the door for the run was the fact that the marathon is only 8 weeks away!

As usual once I started running it really wasn't that bad and since it was quite a lovely day and there were lots of other runners and cyclists out there. As I was running I was thinking a lot about a presentation I heard on Friday given by one of the researchers at my institute. She talked about the much higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in Indigenous Australians and provided some thoughts about why this occurs. One of the contributing factors was that Indigenous Australians have been uniquely adapted over the last 40,000 years to successfully survive in the hostile environment of Australia. The traditional lifestyle of hunters and gatherers exposed them to regular cycles of feast and famine conditions, to unstable and sparse environments. In this environment Indigenous Australians have excelled, in fact it was suggested that this may be one of the reasons that makes Indigenous Australians good athletes. This can be clearly seen in the case of Australian Football League (AFL) - 11% of AFL players are Indigenous Australians - a much greater proportion than in the general population where Indigenous Australians make up only 2% of the population. However it appears that those same factors which had previously enabled Indigenous Australians to cope with the feast and famine environment play a role in them having accelerated risk of disease under so called 'feast' environments.

One of the slides the researcher showed was of an elite Indigenous Australian Football player in his prime - a wonderful athlete and then a photo of the same individual about 10 years after the end of his football career - now severely overweight and probably a prime candidate for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. So what I take away from this, well firstly there is sound reasoning for why today's Indigenous Australians living in a 'plentiful' environment have increased risk of cardiovascular disease and secondly we really need to target and improve those factors that reduce the impact of 'modern living' - having access to nutritious, inexpensive food; safe opportunities for increased physical activity; education about the risks of poor lifestyle choices. While my personal heritage does not put me at such a great risk of CV disease I do have a direct family lineage of diabetes and so it is necessary for me to make the right lifestyle choices to minimize my risk of developing diabetes - but I am lucky I have education, secure finances, safe neighborhood to enable me to do all those things easily. Many Indigenous Australians are not so fortunate and so we need to support them to achieve those same things for themselves.

Route: Charman Road to Small Street return; Time: 120min; Weather overcast 13C; Distance 20km
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