Your Paleo Practitioner

Living a Paleo Lifestyle - Exercise for a Healthy Body

 Since the sentinel study in 1985 by Doctors Eaton & Konner, the Paleo diet has been considered to be a breakthrough for those desiring the ultimate healthy human diet. It’s also quite helpful for those with glycemic imbalances. The low carbohydrate diets popularized in the 1980’s until now are all focused on reducing high glycemic carbohydrates which almost always improves body fat and blood sugar. However it is only the Paleo diet which also focuses on an ancestral eating pattern by eliminating toxins such as artificial sugars, chemically altered oil and processed foods. It strongly encourages terms such as “organic”, “grass-fed”, “pasture raised”, “ethically raised” and “humanely handled”. Until there are more stringent guidelines of what these terms actually mean, we will have to do the best we can to seek out farmers that are truly trying to provide a healthier and more natural product.

 There have been several human studies conducted which have compared the Paleo diet to other popular, seemingly “healthy” diets. It has been compared to the Mediterranean Diet as well as the ADA’s Diabetic Diet. The Paleo diet consistently rates higher for overall weight loss, abdominal fat reduction, improving HDL and triglyceride levels. These studies were conducted on many different populations including healthy volunteers, those with coronary artery disease, those with type 2 diabetes, obese individuals and post-menopausal women. Even my own research study using the Paleo diet, completed in 2015 showed remarkable improvements in weight, blood pressure, lipids and other blood work markers of metabolism in every single participant. BMI (body mass index) was decreased in 91% of study participants. Triglycerides were decreased in 76% of study participants and HDL’s increased in 56% of study participants. It was quite an unexpected finding that those eating the Paleo diet for only 3 weeks saw an increase in HDL’s. Prior to my study, I believed that exercise was just about the only intervention that would consistently increase HDLs. It seems as though eliminating unhealthy foods and sugars and eating more healthy fats, animal products and vegetables will also increase HDLs. Who knew?!

The human body was meant to move. I always say to my patients “the more you move, the more you CAN move, and the less you move, the less you CAN move”. For optimal health, we must use our bodies to keep it in the best shape. Although our physical activity needs are all genetically determined, you must understand that we have become increasingly less physically active over the last 150 years since the industrial revolution. In fact, profoundly less physically active in the last 60 to 70 years since the development of cars, then television, the telephone and now computers and video games. Our human genome again, cannot compensate so quickly to the swift changes associated with modernization. Human DNA developed in a world that is very different to what we live in today.

 Over consumption of daily calories “in” and decrease in calories “out” contributes to weight gain, however this is now believed to be an oversimplification of this concept. It is almost cliché that the human body is most healthy with daily physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle in conjunction with the western diet is quite deadly. The connection between improved health as we age and how that relates to exercise is well known. In the fifth century, the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote how “all parts of the body should be exercised and maintained to work well, be healthy and age slowly”. But, he went on, “if it is unused and left idle, disease and ageing advance quickly”.

Aging is also believed to be associated with increased levels of inflammation. It is a commonly accepted fact among most medical professionals that inflammation is the main cause of disease such as cardiovascular disease.  Maintaining physical fitness is the best way to mitigate the inflammatory process. The more physically fit a person is, the lower the inflammatory markers found in the blood such as C-reactive protein (CRP), fasting glucose, triglycerides as well as blood pressure. Studies of older people have identified the benefits of regular exercise in regards to the effects of lower levels of inflammation and increased functioning. The added benefit of increased muscle mass was found to have a profound effect on the aging process. Daily exercise also is found to increase blood flow, which is believed to reduce the hypoxia seen throughout adipose (fat) tissue deposits. This may be yet another mechanism in which exercise exerts its positive effects on lowering inflammation in the body.

There are essentially three types of physical activity that are inherent to human health. First, at least a couple of times a week, we should engage in a long, slow distance such as walking, biking or swimming. These aerobic activities are associated with a moderate increase in heart rate. The second is sprint work, such as high intensity interval training (HIIT). This is incorporating some short sprints during your workout which increases your heart rate into the cardio zone. Short bursts of fast heart rates will not only keep your cardiovascular system in excellent shape but will increase your fat burning capacity. You can vary your heart rate using a treadmill by speeding up or increasing incline for short bursts, then returning to your original pace or incline level.

The last form of physical activity is, on occasion lift something heavy. That can be formal workouts in the gym using free weights, but can also include your own body weight. So do yoga, pushups, pullups or planks at least once a week. However and how often you engage in some physical activity is your choice. But remember, your health is a combination of a healthy, ancestral diet specifically designed for your human DNA along with the kinds of physical activity your body inherently needs.