Exercise and Healthy Eating the Paleo Way – Could it Work for You?

I am part of the over-50 crowd (52 to be exact).  I do not intend to go quietly into that good night.  Whether the flame goes out at 53 or 103, I intend to be able to express myself fully and that means using my body as more than a chauffeur for my head.  Major knee surgery, arthritis in both elbows and one shoulder, married with children from preschool to the Marine Corps – I need to be efficient with exercise and diet.

While there are no guarantees on this health thing, I believe that I have put together a smart diet and exercise plan that can help anyone maximize their gifts at any age.

The plan centers around Paleo fitness principles and bodyweight exercises and the Paleo diet.

Bodyweight Exercise

I mainly use bodyweight exercises because they are inexpensive, portable, scalable, and mentally as well as physically challenging.  Even though I am certified through USA Weightlifting as a Sports Performance Coach, I think it’s important for ageing - and developing – athletes to center their strength training on bodyweight movements.

I reflect on my younger bodybuilding days in the early 80’s.  If someone had told me that I didn’t need to work out six days a week for 90 minutes each session I would have used a more profane version of “slacker.”   Paleo fitness focuses on functionality and intensity rather than duration, seeing these as more evolutionarily appropriate to the human organism.  So now, when I take my rescue pit bull for a long walk, I’m not being a wimp – I’m an ancestral hunter engaged in tracking prey.

It’s important for functionality to focus on movements and not muscles.  In real life, we squat, bend, twist, push, pull, and run or walk through different planes.  You can’t do this safely with barbells, or at all with weight machines.  With bodyweight, the exercises can be made harder or easier based on leverage (e.g. a pushup against the wall or the floor) angle, surface stability, and time under tension. Most people can’t do a proper two-legged squat, much less a squat on one leg.  Kettlebell swings (explosiveness) and deadlift (lifting things from the ground) round out my evolutionarily appropriate regime.

Rather than focusing on making your biceps bigger or more toned, how about working a movement that will allow you to pull powerfully?  Instead of working for a “great pair of legs”, how about concentrating on maintaining spinal integrity and working on hip flexibility for a deep squat?  The interesting thing is that form usually follows function.  You will look great when you move great.

There are too many exercises to detail here but you are only limited by your imagination and strength.

You can cover most major muscle groups and maintain function by including two exercises for the upper body – one for pushing and one for pulling, and two exercises for the lower body – one that includes hip flexion and the other that includes knee flexion.  Jumping rope for five minutes makes an excellent warmup.

These exercises can be performed in a circuit (one after the other) or in an interval style (perform for a set amount of time and rest for a set amount of time) to gain the additional cardiovascular benefit.  The exercises should be done 2-4 times per week, depending on schedule and preference.

Paleo fitness principles have given me back more time. They have also allowed me to increase my smugness as I walk by the window of the local “big box” gym. There I see the poor souls who have bought the lie that life on a hamster wheel aerobics machine will make them look better naked.

Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet has gotten a lot of press recently.  There are a lot of diets out there – Zone, Warrior, Atkins, Mediterranean – and many of them work to improve body composition. There’s a strong argument to be made that sticking to the diet is more important than the exact macronutrient profile of the foods you eat on it.

When you start out on a diet, let a supportive friend or family member in on it and set up a regular reporting schedule.  Briefly, the Paleo Diet consists of:

  • Animal protein – meat, fish, fowl, and eggs (with a bit of a debate as to whether it needs to be lean or not)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits (in moderation due to the sugar content)
  • Seeds and Nuts
  • Healthy fats – from grass fed animals, coconut oil, avocado oil (my favorite), olive oil, and fish oil
  • Dairy in moderation  – raw, fermented, aged being the best (although strict practitioners put this on the “no-no” list)

Grains, legumes, polyunsaturated fats, and all processed foods are to be avoided.

One of the reasons I really like the Paleo Diet is because it is nutrient dense.   I am actually saving money on vitamin supplements. You also don’t need to count calories: relying on healthy fats, protein, and fibrous vegetables has a self-regulating effect with regard to fullness and satiety.  And, as a diet that allows us the indiscriminate use of bacon, it’s become popular with everyone in the house.

My rebellious “last ten pounds of fat” were conquered in a matter of weeks after applying the principles.  The stomach pains and fatigue that my wife had been suffering from the last couple of years are mostly gone.  The symptoms only return when she slips and eats the gluten-containing products that are on the top of the Paleo “Banned” list.

There are a few other benefits that don’t fall into the realm of physical health but make the lifestyle incredibly valuable.  Our mealtime discussions often become conversations on macronutrients, food quality, factory farming, hunting, Paleolithic vs. Neolithic, biochemistry, and sustainable agricultural practices – not the easiest things to talk about with 4 and 9 year-olds.  It has made us all more conscious of our food choices and more present in our consumption.  My youngest son is even trying to organize his 3rd grade class to demand more Paleo options for school lunch.

Selfishly, the Paleo lifestyle has also allowed me to indulge my desire for shiny new things.  This means that I get to spout “Bro Science” at anyone within earshot.  I made a deal with my wife that I would get back into the kitchen more if I could buy that fancy slow cooker for stews and bone broths and, no, “a crockpot WON’T get ‘er done, dear!”  Finally, the change in diet and workout regimen have improved my (already strong) libido and I’ve got references (well, one anyway) to prove it.

Hans Hageman is an attorney who gave up the practice of law to become an educator.  He is a husband, father of eight, and lives the professional life of a ronin.  He coaches and trains individuals and organizations in communication skills and peak performance in athletics and life.  You can find out more about him on HansHageman.com or and about the Paleo lifestyle at Brownstone Fitness.

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