Paleo exercise is based on the same principle as the Paleo diet: do what you’re designed to do. In this sense, Paleo exercise can be as radical a departure from standard American practice as the Paleo diet: “exercise” means incorporating movement into your whole life, not just starting your day with an hour at the gym. Essentially, exercise should complement your healthy diet in strengthening and supporting a body capable of meeting real-world physical challenges.
If you already eat Paleo, you know advantages of eating the way you were built to eat; unsurprisingly, moving the way you were built to move has similar benefits. As well as preparing you to face the physical demands of an unpredictable world, exercise improves your immune system, lowers your risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, and stroke, promotes heart health, and increases longevity – and even more importantly, it keeps your body strong and your immune system functioning even as you age, so you can still enjoy your “golden years.” Getting regular exercise also improves your quality of life by reducing stress, preventing depression, improving memory, and helping you sleep better. Of course, let’s not forget about the fact that exercise is a great tool to develop a good looking, lean and muscular body. There’s nothing wrong in desiring and developing a sexy physique. The Paleo approach to fitness allows your body to reap all the rewards of physical activity, while avoiding the possible negative effects of forcing your body to move in ways it wasn’t designed for.
There is no one dogmatic approach or official Paleo fitness program. In general, the Paleo lifestyle emphasizes natural movement (preferably outside) over machine-based exercises and brief but intense strength training workouts over extended sessions of steady-state cardio. Too much cardio is the exercise equivalent of “healthy whole grains:” touted by the Department of Health, recommended by doctors everywhere, and damaging to your entire system. “Chronic cardio” keeps you in a constant “fight or flight” mode, increasing cortisol levels, inflammation, and damage to your cells from free radicals. On top of the increased stress from the exercise itself, the high-carb diet required to sustain chronic cardio harms your body in the long term by raising your insulin levels.
As well as discouraging an addiction to cardio, Paleo exercise programs stress the importance of rest and recovery time. Your workouts should leave you strong and energized, not constantly sore and exhausted, and exercise should never feel like a cruel form of torture you have to force yourself through. Fitness is important, but it should support your body, not dominate your life.
Within these broad guidelines, Paleo fitness is infinitely flexible and adaptable to individual needs – just like Paleo nutrition. The most important aspect of any exercise program is how well it works for you: experiment with any and all of the programs below until you discover what best fits your abilities and goals.
As varied as the Paleo diet, Paleo exercise has the same basic goal: to improve your health by working with your body, not against it. Aside from general guidelines – focus on natural movement and consistent physical activity, emphasize briefer periods of high intensity work over endless cardio – Paleo fitness means whatever way of moving your body works best for you. The programs above are a great start: experiment with them, keep track of your results, and find a way of moving that fits into your life.