Move The Way Our Ancestors Did…The Paleo Way

Have you ever pondered on the scientific fact that our Paleolithic ancestors had virtually no ailments or diseases? A far cry from the myriad of illnesses we are plagued by in today’s society ever since the Agricultural & Industrial Revolutions. I’ve already spoken about the Paleo Diet (or template as I prefer to refer to it as) that consisted of food that was hunted, gathered, plucked or fished. But what about the way our ancestors moved?

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Move Like Our Ancestors Did

In order to survive, our ancestors (and present day hunter gatherers) would spend a lot of time doing low-intensity movements such as walking to gather foods and create shelter on a daily basis. They would also have to perform short bursts of extremely high volume physical activity in order to hunt for their food or flee from a predator.  And this is the type of activity humans have evolved to be genetically predisposed to.

To put this into perspective, Charles Poliquin wrote in an article of his that studies show…

Present-day hunter gatherers burn between 600 and 1,700 calories a day in physical activity, whereas present-day urban populations burn 200 to 300, often indoors on cardio machines or with relatively light weights. The present day solution of relying on prescription drugs to offset the lack of physical activity, overeating of processed foods and carbohydrates, and the high-stress environment is irrational. A more effective solution that will produce happier, healthier people is to adopt a training program and diet that as closely mimics our ancestors as possible.

I couldn’t have said it better myself! It’s a no brainer, right? Pretty simple – eat and move the Paleo way. Obviously I’m not suggesting you go bush and start hunting for your own kangaroos to eat, I’m merely suggesting as Poliquin has, to mimic this way of life. And that’s exactly what it was for our ancestors…a way of life.

The 7 Primal Pattern Movements

Some of you may be familiar with the 7 Primal Pattern Movements. This was identified by holistic health coach, Paul Chek. One of the most influential books I have read in this field, is Chek’s How to Eat, Move and be Healthy. I highly recommend it. Chek says…

Primal Pattern Movements are the seven key movements that I feel were necessary for survival in our developmental environment. In other words, if you couldn’t correctly perform these seven movement patterns quickly and effectively without thinking about what your body was doing, you probably wouldn’t survive in the wild. Even though our lifestyle is very different from our developmental ancestors, these seven movement patterns are still key to performing daily tasks and staying injury free.

My clients probably don’t realise this, but every workout I do with them consists of these seven movements:

  1. squat
  2. bend
  3. lunge
  4. push
  5. pull
  6. twist
  7. gait

Debunking The Cardio Myth

There has been several studies done that demonstrate how steady-state endurance cardio does not work for weight loss. In fact, it can have a negative effect. I understand that many people (especially women) jump on the cardio machines at the gym as they believe this to be the answer to weight loss, and perhaps because they feel intimidated by the weight area (aka ‘gorilla pit’). If you are one of these people, I don’t blame you. We all think that everyone is watching us, right? Well I can assure you that no one really is for long enough to see how you’re performing an exercise, but I get your trepidation. You also wouldn’t want to do the exercise incorrectly and injure yourself (please, for the sake of your body and weight loss/muscle gain goals…hire a Personal Trainer!). But do you think our ancestors only did long periods of low-intensity movements? As I’ve already pointed out, they did low-intensity movements quickly followed by periods of high-intensity movements – referred today as high intensity interval training or HIIT. I’ve briefly spoken of this before.

The problem with extended periods of steady-state cardio is this:

  • It makes you really hungry!
  • increases oxidative damage
  • increases inflammation
  • increases cortisol (which will make you store fat)
  • depresses the immune system making it more likely you’ll catch that flu everyone’s got at the office!

What Exercises Should I do?

 This is how Poliquin suggests you do it…and I couldn’t agree more!

  •   Interval training should be performed a few times a week with bursts of high-intensity training followed by recovery. This improves cardiovascular, pulmonary, and muscular fitness.
  • Strength train with heavy loads and periodized phases to continually produce gains in strength and muscle mass.
  • Do heavy-load “paleo daily life” activities such as modified strongman training on a weekly basis.
  • Regularly exercise outside whether it is walking, jogging, intervals, or strongman. Our ancestors performed all of their “training” outdoors, and studies show outdoor exercise, even in less than ideal weather, will improve mood and adherence. It also raises vitamin D.
  • Include some sort of activity that promotes flexibility—stretching, foam rolling, yoga, or soft tissue work.
  • Ensure recovery—our ancestors typically did strenuous activity to secure basic needs and then took advantage of their hard work to take time to recover.
  •  Walk and run on natural surfaces as much as possible—trail running or at the track are two ways to get off the pavement.
  • Get training partners. Our ancestors performed much of their strenuous activity in a social setting, which required both competition and cooperation, leading to better results and more enjoyment.
  • Avoid all processed foods and eat a “paleo” diet.
  •  A few more suggestions are to perform barefoot activity (shoes may restrict musculature and shorten tendons), own animals because you will have to be active to care for them (dog owners have been found to be healthier than other non-owners), go dancing (our ancestors performed long ceremonial dances), have sex regularly (with a partner of course…), and get adequate rest and recovery.

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  1. says

    Wow I really liked your link Liz, you have quite a thorough knowledge base as a PT i will definitely be sending potential clients your way I’m impressed…The HIIT part vs steady cardio is very interesting and it all makes sense, something I try to practice but didn’t know it’s origins..I can say I’m a big fan of paleo way, it’s been hard to stop having starchy foods with every meal but the health benefits are great…I do believe it’s especially good for ” O” blood types as 50% of the world is O and its the original blood type, thriving on hunter gather life styles…I believe A’s can follow some of this But do better on plant based proteins…I’m an A blood type apparently it was the first mutation of the blood and it evolved around the time of farming…

    • says

      Hi Max! Thanks very much! Yes, I’m a big advocate of certain aspects of the blood type diet…I’m O blood type (the meat eaters!). You’re 100% correct, A blood type can still follow the Paleo way of eating, but usually feel better on plant based proteins. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. kate says

    Hi – I am an advocate of the Paleo diet, it makes a lot of sense to me and has changed the way I eat and therefore feel. And I also understand and agree with your summation of the type of exercise we need to do for strength, weightloss and well being.However, how do we know “that our Paleolithic ancestors had virtually no ailments or diseases? “I would be really interested to see some sources for further reading, thanks. KT

    • says

      Hi Kate. Thanks for your comment, and happy to know you too feel better on a Paleo diet. For your further reading, you could try reading some books by Weston A Price and also Nora Gedgaudas (Primal Body, Primal Mind). Hope this helps!

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