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Health and ageing


Admission requirements

This course is part of the minor Human Evolution and registration is restricted to students who followed the preceding courses of this minor.


Ageing and disease are both negative traits that could have detrimental effects on an individual. Why would natural selection not act against these traits? Here we answer the questions ‘Why do we age?’ and ‘Why are we susceptible to disease?’, discussing the several evolutionary theories of ageing that have been postulated over the years using the original papers. We look at the epidemiology of ageing in recent history, using evolutionary medicine to differentiate between proximate and ultimate causes of disease. Finally, we address the mismatch between our evolutionary past and modern environment as a cause of the current disease, including diseases of affluence, but also autoimmune diseases and mental disorders. In the last week, you will work on a short presentation and your final essay of the half minor in which you will critically evaluate the scientific evidence behind a popular scientific article on one of the topics: diet and digestive system, ageing and life histories, immune system and the hygiene hypothesis, or brain and evolutionary psychiatry.

Course Objectives

At the end of this course, students are able to:

  • can explain why the human evolutionary past and present are mismatched.

  • can explain why ageing is a consequence of the abovementioned evolutionary mismatch.

  • can critically evaluate the hypotheses that diseases of affluence, autoimmune diseases and mental disorders are consequences of evolutionary mismatches

  • can explain why ageing and some diseases, such as cancer, are not distinct phenomena but are different aspects of the same phenomenon.

  • can critically evaluate and discuss primary scientific literature.


From 31 October – 11 November 2022. A detailed time table will be published on Brightspace.

You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

Lectures and reading primary literature. In the last week, you will work on your final essay (life histories, digestive system and diet, immune system, or brain)

Assessment method

Your presentation and final essay will be judged by teachers from at least two of the disciplines Biology, Archaeology or Medicine.
Inspection and feedback on the examination
Feedback on your essay will be provided on Brightspace and upon appointment.

Reading list

Compulsory book: R. Boyd & J.B. Silk; How Humans Evolved, 8th edition, 2018; Norton Publishers.
Primary literature t.b.a.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information. Exemptions are minor students and fall semester for 1st year bachelor students: the student administration will enroll these groups for courses.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.


Coordinator: Dr. M. van der Zee and Dr. B. Everts


Brightspace will be used for communication