Chapter 6: Exercising the Paleofantasy

Those who live a paleo lifestyle also exercise in a manner thats assume to reflect the way early hunter-gatherers would have moved. With the CrossFit program, they focus on short yet intense workouts and embracing randomness and variety. This type of exercise would reflect paleolithic activities such as carrying a rock and tools, gathering plants, splitting wood with an axe, and butchering an animal. 

The author introduces the concept of an “Active Couch Potato”, where people work out vigorously for a short period of time but spend the rest of their day sedentary. These individuals have a higher than expected rate of mortality and cardiovascular disease.  

Dr. James Levine  claims that a sedentary existence is responsible for the “pandemic of obesity.” As a solution he claims that we should increase our NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), such as mowing the lawn, using the stairs, and walking to get the mail. These small little actions add up throughout the day and end up burning a significant amount of calories.   

The author moves on to discuss the running abilities of humans. Compared to other animals, our sprinting ability are quite poor and we burn more calories doing it. However, humans are remarkable at running long distances compared to other animals. People from across the world have hunted animals like antelopes simply by running after them until they were too exhausted. From panting to millions of sweat glands, humans are the “best air-cooled engine” that evolution has to offer. 

Diving into the genetics, skeletal structure, and physiology of human running, Dr. Zuk discusses the debate on running barefoot and concludes that it is not possible to isolate a single, natural exercise pattern. She also discusses the ACTN3 gene and its connection to athletic ability.