Paleo Spirit Fitness: MOVE

After having a fitness epiphany a few months ago I determined to create for myself a manageable workout plan. As I mentioned in a previous post, taking a cue from Mark Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint”, there are four workout categories I try to incorporate into my life every week:

  • MOVE
  • LIFT
  • SPRINT
  • PLAY

It sounds obvious that moving your body is a good thing. But many people are under the impression that gaining any real benefit from exercise means engaging in intense “cardio”. In a previous post I wrote about what I have learned about “Chronic Cardio”. Let’s look a little more closely at what I have learned about MOVING, why it is so important and how NOT to do it.

My father, who was a medical doctor, used to say walking causes you to, “leave fat in your footsteps”. I think of that quote when I am out walking or hiking but it would count for yoga or other similar low-key aerobic activities as well. The recommended heart rate range to quality as “low-level” is approximately 55-75% of maximum. This type of MOVING is important for good overall cardiovascular and immune system health and can benefit almost anyone at any age. Another important benefit of moving frequently at a slow pace is the base of strength it gives you. Once you start moving on a regular basis it will not be long before you are able to handle more intense workouts if you desire.

The benefits of low-key aerobic activity:

  • Helps balance blood sugar levels
  • Regulates appetite
  • Trains your body to metabolize fat more efficiently
  • Increases your capillary network
  • Grows muscle mitochondria
  • Strengthens the stroke volume of your heart
  • Improves oxygen delivery of the lungs
  • Strengthens bones, joints and connective tissue
  • Improves ability to recover from more intense workouts
  • Stimulates beneficial hormone flow
  • Builds a more efficient circulatory system
  • Increases energy levels

It is actually very easy to achieve 55-75% of maximum heart rate and highly dependent upon your current fitness level. A very fit individual might need to jog to get into this “zone” while another person might only need to take a slow walk around the neighborhood. There are some online calculators that take into account your age and spit out the heart rate for a given percentage of maximum. But another guide is to remember you should break a light sweat but still be able to carry on a conversation. When I was trying to figure out my 55-75% of maximum I went to my gym and used some cardio machines that have a heart rate monitor. I tried a few different ones to make sure I was getting a reasonably accurate reading. You can also buy an inexpensive monitor to make sure you do not exceed 75% on the days when you are MOVING. Another general guide is:

  • 220 – age = estimated maximum heart rate (MEN)
  • 226 – age = estimated maximum heart rate (WOMEN)

When you MOVE in this range your body shifts into the fat burning zone. When you start exercising at levels above 85% of maximum for extended periods of time your body burns glucose for fuel. This causes lactate to accumulate in the bloodstream and your body produces excess cortisol. If you get into a Chronic Cardio scenario where you are working out at 85% and higher for extended periods of time you are likely to:

  • develop problems with metabolism, stress management and immune function
  • shift your body’s preferred fuel source from fat to glucose
  • crave carbohydrates and overeat beyond what you have burned through exercise

Looking more closely at the damage wrought by the increase in cortisol production brought on by workouts that are too intense we see that it leads to:

  • break down of muscle tissue
  • suppression of production of key anabolic hormones (testosterone, human growth hormone)
  • fatigue
  • burnout
  • immune suppression
  • loss of bone density
  • decreased fat metabolism
  • increased systemic inflammation
  • increased oxidative damage
  • acceleration of the aging process

So you can see, contrary to conventional wisdom, the type of exercise that can bring optimal health is NOT high intensity, long-term cardio. When I came to this realization it was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. No longer did I feel as though I could never be truly “fit” if I did not force myself to run endlessly or kill myself on the elliptical machine. Now I understand that moving frequently at a slow pace is part of getting and staying fit, feeling good and extending my life expectancy. It does not mean that I never participate in workouts that are more intense – because I certainly do. But I do them because I want to and I have the energy to do them rather than forcing myself because I believe it is the only way to be “in shape”.

Currently, when I MOVE I choose walking or hiking. It is summer and the weather is nice so I get outside as much as I can. Once winter comes things will change a bit and I will most likely increase the time I spend doing yoga. (Snow shoveling would certainly count as MOVING or even SPRINTING or LIFTING (not PLAYING) but I’ll leave that one up to the G man.) And while I’m not a huge fan of walking on a treadmill I will resort to that if the weather is really terrible and there are few other options. Two hours per week is my minimum but I often do more. I try to align my workouts with my energy level, the weather and the time I have to devote to it on a given day. If I am super-motivated and full of energy I will go for a more intense workout. If the weather is nice outside and I can fit in some walking time I will drive to a nearby park for a long walk with the boys. Sometimes the entire 2-5 hours of moving is accomplished in one day a week if we go on a family hike on a weekend.

Another benefit of being able to exercise outside is the opportunity to commune with nature and contemplate the beauty of God’s creation. It has been something I have found extremely healing on multiple levels. Being able to MOVE outdoors this summer has also been a great way to spend time with my boys and help them gain an appreciation for exercising and enjoying nature. The whining and claims of legs that are “going to fall off” have thankfully subsided significantly. And I hope they are gaining a lifelong habit of making physical activity a priority.

For more information, I highly recommend you check out Mark Sisson’s excellent book, “The Primal Blueprint”.

paleo spirit fitness

Paleo Spirit Fitness: Overview

I have some really good news!

Getting fit and staying fit does NOT mean toiling away doing endless cardio. Though it may be difficult to believe, achieving optimal health does not mean you have to be an exerholic.  Since adopting the Paleo lifestyle I have embraced the “less is more” idea with regard to exercise. My new-found common sense approach to fitness is inspired by Mark Sisson. When I began gathering information about the Paleo Diet I started by researching the differences between the Paleo Diet and the Zone Diet.  Having read “Mastering the Zone” by Dr. Barry Sears in the late 1990′s I was well-acquainted with the idea of eating more lean protein and good fats, keeping insulin levels in check, etc…  But I wanted to know how the Paleo Diet and the Zone Diet differ and why I should follow one versus the other.  The website that came up in my searching was Mark Sisson’s blog www.marksdailyapple.com.  After reading about the dietary aspects of Paleo (or as Mark calls it, Primal) I began to explore more of Mark’s site and was immediately hooked.  Mark is a former world-class marathoner and Ironman triathlete who has created what he calls the “Primal Blueprint” as a way to health and wellness.  Included in the Primal Blueprint is what he calls Primal Blueprint Fitness.  According to Mark Sisson, following this “blueprint” leads to “functional, diverse athletic ability, and a lean, proportioned physique”. 

Primal Blueprint Fitness recommendations:

  • MOVE frequently at a slow pace: walking, hiking, cycling, easy cardio at 55-75% of maximum heart rate, 2-5 hours per week.
  • LIFT heavy things: Brief, intense sessions of full-body functional movements, 1-3 times per week for 7-60 minutes.
  • SPRINT: “All out” efforts < 10 total duration, once every 7-10 days.
  • PLAY

Using this as a guide, I have attempted to find the most efficient, effective (and fun!) exercise regimen for myself.  Right now the following activities comprise my weekly workout routine:

  • 1 hour willPower & grace
  • 1 hour Zumba (Play!)
  • 1 hour yoga or “yogalates”
  • 1-3 hours walking or hiking
  • 20 minutes of sprinting, once a week
  • 20 minutes weight-lifting, twice a week

That adds up to 5-7 hours per week but according to Mark’s Primal Blueprint it could be as low as 3 hours per week. If I have the energy, opportunity and desire for more physical activity I will most likely put in additional time in the “Move” category. For me that would probably include walking, hiking or yoga. I try to stay away from too much high intensity cardio or “Chronic Cardio” which

“requires huge amounts carbohydrate (sugar) to sustain, it promotes hyperinsulinemia (overproduction of insulin), increases oxidative damage (the production of free radicals) by a factor of 10 or 20 times normal, and generates high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in many people, leaving them susceptible to infection, injury, loss of bone density and depletion of lean muscle tissue – while encouraging their bodies to deposit fat.”

I would add it also leads to a misperception that fitness can only be achieved by those who have the time and will to put themselves through an intense workout schedule.  My husband, G, because of work commitments and a significant commute, simply does not have the time in a given week to follow the standard “Chronic Cardio” method.  He has lost weight and feels great following this more manageable fitness program in his relatively limited time.  We have both gone from discouraged to ecstatic that we do not have to kill ourselves to be fit.

In future posts I will go into more depth about what I have discovered in my search for the most effective and efficient way of exercising.  I will also get into more detail about my own experiences with my current regimen.  Until then, I’m going for a walk with my boys, SP and BB!

Me with SP & BB and Renoir’s “Rowers” at Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, NJ