Paleo Perfect – Bringing Ancient Diet and Exercise Strategies Back to Life

cavemanFor those of you who think we have nothing to learn from our ancestors, here’s some healthy, hard evidence that may change your mind. Recent research on Stone Age (or Paleolithic) lifestyle patterns has been churning up some compelling evidence on just how effective this ancient lifestyle of Paleo diet and exercise is in preventing chronic disease and promoting vibrant health. It seems that the hunting and gathering methods of our ancestors did more than just allow them to survive in this pre-agricultural era – on the contrary, this lifestyle appears to be just the ticket to solve some of the most challenging health issues plaguing our society today. Of course in the midst of the modern conveniences of today, not even the most rustic, nature-loving individual would be likely to adopt this lifestyle in its entirety. But we can certainly take some clues from this ancient lifestyle framework and incorporate them into our daily lives to help us on our road to health. Here’s a snapshot of the Paleo Life and why it works so well to protect us against disease. The development of cultivating plant crops and domesticating animals began over 10,000 years ago, leading to the addition of various foods such as wheat, legumes and dairy products to the diet. Prior to this lifestyle shift, the diet of the Paleolithic era consisted of foods that were hunted and gathered, such as wild game, fish, fruits, nuts, wild greens and tubers. These foods are still recommended as part of a healthy diet as they are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and other health promoting nutrients. However, unlike the modern diet that is also filled with processed foods, salt, sugar, dairy foods and oils, our ancestors managed without these additions…and not only managed, but thrived in their absence. A strict Paleo diet does not include cultivated foods such as dairy products, wheat, legumes, soy, sugar, starch or caffeine. Instead, high-quality protein foods such as wild-caught fish, free-range chicken and beef, and organic eggs as well as large quantities of vegetables are consumed. Nuts and low sugar fruits such as blueberries are also included. Recent evidence on benefits of the Paleo diet includes decreased blood pressure, insulin levels, cholesterol and plasma triglycerides, and in many cases, these results were evident after even short-term dietary intervention. Not surprisingly, the exercise patterns of this ancient era also offer great health benefits. The Paleo exercise regime focuses on diverse, moderate levels of exercise such as walking 6-16km most days a week as well as running, lifting, climbing, carrying, etc., which combined, offer a well-rounded exercise regime in today’s terms including cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises. A large body of evidence demonstrates that the synergistic benefits of doing a combination of aerobic and strength training improves hyperglycemia compared to performing either activity exclusively. Beyond variety in daily activities, variations in activities between days is also an important characteristic of the Paleo lifestyle, usually incorporating a less intense day following a more strenuous day in order to allow the muscles to relax and recover. Furthermore, our ancestors tended to walk and run barefoot on natural grass and dirt surfaces and never on solid flat ground, as we tend to do nowadays, which tends to place less stress on the joints. Although it is unrealistic to adapt this type of barefoot exercise in present day, opting for shoes offering more of a “barefoot” feel in addition to getting as much outdoor exercise, such as hiking, as possible will help mimic this back to basic lifestyle. Despite the warnings about UV and our health, we are all intuitively aware of the health benefits of getting fresh air and sunshine, and the paleo lifestyle certainly got its fair share of both. Research suggests that outdoor exercise has added health advantages over indoor physical activity such as sunlight exposure that allows the body to synthesize vitamin D, thus offering protective effects against bone diseases such as osteoporosis. Finally, although low-to-moderate exercises make up the majority of the daily physical activity of a Paleolithic regime, life in the wild did cause our ancestors to experience occasional bursts of moderate-to-high intensity level exercise as well. Studies show that interval training results in better weight loss, control of blood glucose levels, and more fitness gains than equal or longer amounts of continuous activity at lower intensities. Incorporating one or two short but intense workouts every week is a great way to supercharge your workout routine. The Paleo lifestyle is a simplified way of life emphasizing variety and being in tune with the natural rhythm of life. Beyond general health benefits, following this type of exercise regime discourages “addiction” to regular and prolonged cardiovascular activity, which can result in increased cardiovascular risk and oxidative stress and do more harm than good. When combined with a diet high in natural foods (and lacking the processed food options that are so abundant today), the Paleo lifestyle offers significant benefits in preventing chronic disease, weight loss and management and overall health. If history repeats itself, the Paleo era is a blast from the past that we can all truly benefit from. References: Eat like a caveman. Available at: Frassetto, L.A., Schloetter, M., Mietus-Synder, M., Morris Jr., R.C., Sebastian, A. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009; 63: 947-955. O’Keefe, J.H., Vogel, R., Lavie, C.J., Cordian, L. Exercise like a hunter-gatherer: a prescription for organic physical fitness. Progress in cardiovascular diseases. 2011; 53: 471-479. O’Keefe, J.H., Vogel, R., Lavie, C.J., Cordian, L. Organic fitness: physical activity consistent with our hunter-gatherer heritage. The physician and sports medicine. 2010. 38(4): 1-8. The Paleo Diet. Available at: