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LONDON (AP) – Deep in the Bolivian Amazon lives a group of indigenous people who spend their days hunting and farming. Researchers say this may be partly why they have some of the healthiest hearts on the planet.
The Tsimane, a society of hunter-gatherers, have the lowest-ever recorded levels of clogged arteries among any population studied, new research found.
Scientists say the finding points to the importance of reducing risk factors for heart disease: The Tsimane are physically active – exercising for about four to seven hours every day – and their diet is low in fat and sugar. They also don’t smoke or drink often.
“The average middle-aged Tsimane has arteries that are about 28 years younger than those of Westerners,” said Dr. Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Missouri, who helped lead the new work.
Lifestyle probably plays a bigger role than genetics in avoiding heart disease, Thompson said.
He noted that as the Tsimane are gradually introduced to processed foods and motorized canoes, their cholesterol levels have slowly increased.
Other experts said it may be possible to match the Tsimane’s healthy habits.
It’s impractical to return to being hunter-gatherers, but if people “can stop smoking and get a half hour of exercise every day that leaves you breathless, that will be a big help,” said Dr. Joep Perk, a cardiologist at Linnaeus University in Sweden, who was not part of the research.
“There’s a tendency to blame your genes for heart problems and what this study shows us is that you can’t blame your parents, just your lifestyle.”