Tuesday, July 01, 2014

New Zealand Ancestral Health Symposium - Part 1 of 3

Today I'm giving some blog love to the Ancestral Health Society of NZ Symposium, which happened this Sunday-just-been.  As it's late, and I'm minding my circadian rhythms, tonight's commitment extends to snapshot summaries and unedited pics.  There were ten presenters, so this will be a 3-parter.

What exactly is 'Ancestral Health'? What is that thing?

I think the Symposium name 'Ancient Genes vs. Modern World' summarises it nicely.  The idea is that life has changed more rapidly than the human organism can adapt, particularly in the last century. This creates stress to our bodies and minds, which are designed to hunt, gather, socialise, exercise, be in nature, rest, rise with the sun and sleep or watch the stars at night, as our ancient ancestors did.

The Ancestral Health movement aims to resolve the conflict between our ancient genes and modern life, without necessarily shunning 21st century living.

Gene-friendly nutrition is a cornerstone of the movement and most, but not all, Ancestral Health proponents are paleo diet fans. However, as you can see, ancestral living is far more than just what you eat, and the symposium speakers reflected this holism.

Brad Norris
Director of Synergy Health - Workplace Wellness
Are Health Professionals too Focused on Health?

Having dragged along invited along someone whom self-identified as a minimally-interested-possibly- leaving-early-participant, I was praying for an opening speaker that delivered approximately as much excitement as the big bang.  Once Brad started talking, all my fears just drifted away. He's an 'edge-of-your-seat'-er.

Brad is an ex-PT with a Master's degree in Organisational Psychology, and his presentation addressed the radical idea that not everyone is motivated by the idea of becoming healthier. In fact, it often takes a health crisis for people to see the value of eating well and exercising.

Indeed, motivating clients 'at the top of the cliff' is a very big deal in all areas of healthcare.  Brad discussed values as the huge, unseen force that shapes our behaviour.  He spoke of stress being a result of a lifestyle which consistently undermines our values, and that enjoyment, motivation and resilience are a result of living in harmony with ones personal values. Healthcare has traditionally not done a great job of linking into values as a motivating force, however less healthful institutions have: e.g. McDonalds (fun, play), Red Bull (excitement, adventure) and Facebook (belonging, recognition).

As regards exercise, someone that values recognition and group play (but not necessarily health) may become motivated by a competition.  To this end, Synergy Health has developed ways of 'gameifying' movement and diet goals (such as reducing sugar), essentially taking the video game concept, and making it real life. Competitors earn points through daily behaviour goals and it's all tracked online through interactive software (SHIFT).  Cool, huh? There's a media article about it here.

Dr.Pam Olver and Dr. Greg Brown
Greg's Blog: drgregbrown.com   Greg's twitter: @drgregbrown
Pam's twitter: @kiwikaidoc
Ancestral Health in General Practice: Art, Science or Quackery?

Firstly, I'd like to suggest that if Greg Brown decides to give up medicine, he'd make it as a comedian. I'm sorry that my photograph makes him look like a television evangelist. Preach it, Greg!

Pam and Greg shared the stand, discussing the challenges of being an ancestral ('Eat, Sleep, Play') type of doctor in a system that wields the 'evidence based medicine' bat.

While not dismissing the value of the scientific method, Pam and Greg did point out the limitations of it: biases, conflicts of interest and a heavy slant toward pharmaceutical intervention. What do you do when a patient plops into the chair that doesn't conform to the 'average population' upon which evidence-based medicine must be based? Perhaps they have tried something 'unscientific' and it is helping them, what then?.  Herein comes the 'art' of medicine: the ability to see the evidence walking through the door, to 'wing it', and to apply ideas that may partly, or completely, contradict the EBM 'dogma'.

Pam and Greg finished with case studies: patients with disorders that conventional medicine can't do much for, but whom had improved or recovered on the paleo diet. In each case the reaction was complete disbelief from the patients' specialists.  

Aaron Callaghan

Peak Performance Coach

Aaron, a high-end international athletic coach currently taking his own advice by 'laxing out in Wanaka, got us up and moving, demonstrating the role of visualisation in perceived physical ability. This was via the 'thumb exercise'.  We stretched our arm behind us (for which my grumpy shoulder was well pleased) as far as possible while looking at our thumbs, then did some deep breathing and mental imagining of being able to go further next time.  Judging by the surprised noises around the room, I think most people did.

I copied down these things as Aaron's main techniques for health, happiness and stress management.

* Meditation
* Gratitude Log
* Visualisation
* Tai Chi/ Yoga
* Rituals / Habits
* Training Volume (adjust according to how the bod is reacting)
* Cold thermogenesis
* Self talk
* Quality sleep
* Diaphragmatic breathing
* HRV (heart rate variability) training
* Environmental toxins

Part Two: Click Here


  1. Gosh, makes me wish I'd gone. "not everyone is motivated by the idea of becoming healthier" - yeah, I've noticed this...Synergy Health do their stuff on our CDHB website. It always cracks me up that what they say is different from the advice the employees are peddling. I don't think anyone realises it. I always rate their articles 5 out of 5. I'm doing the resilience challenge this month. No idea what it's actually about.

  2. Hi Honora

    Jamie here from Synergy Health/AHSNZ.

    Thank you for rating our articles so highly!

    Part of Brad's talk was about values and how many people rarely value health until they are faced with a significant health challenge. This includes health professionals, in our experience. There are many reasons why someone might become a doctor, nurse, physio - health is usually there or thereabouts, but often times it is down the list too. Health professionals not primarily motivated by health may not always keep up with the ever shifting research, instead just waiting for guidelines to change and continuing to push the message "follow these guidelines because they will make you healthy" (and perhaps not following them themselves).

    Both a fascinating and frustrating area!

    Enjoy the Resiliency Challenge - I am sure you will love it.


  3. Hi Jamie - I'm looking forward to the challenge now as I've found out a bit more about it. cheers, Honora


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