Chronic Cardio & Paleo

There’s a school of thought that opposes the idea of racing Ironman or engaging in long bouts of cardiovascular activity, and some who feel any cardiovascular activity is contraindicated, too.

“Chronic cardio”, a relatively new term, refers to long, steady state training at >75% of max heart rate. Marathoning, ultra running, and ironman triathlon racing are a few examples of sports grouped into this category by some.

There is even research to back it up; studies that show the oxidative stress on the heart, the damage of free radicals, increased cortisol levels and depression of the immune system as a result from ‘too much running’.

Does that mean all of us who enjoy going long need to stop dead in our tracks and swap our marathon training for nothing longer than a 5 or 10k jog?

Not at all.

Let me begin by stating that I’m not doubting or denying the research that’s been done, rather, I’m presenting a different angle on it, which, by the way, also has science behind it, too.

I’ll use myself as an example, and speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that triathlon, and ironman at that, suits me quite well indeed.  I’ve been racing long course for over ten years and have been Paleo for six.  

Aside from the fact that I sleep phenomenally, am rarely ill, easily maintain my lean bodyweight and feel a steady balance of even energy levels,  I also know that on a cellular level, I’m healthy, too.

How can I say this?

My doctor, who is an MD, a PhD AND and ND conducts what I feel is the most comprehensive testing each year when I go in for my physical exam.  In addition to the routine protocol that I’ve seen with many a Western doc, he also uses Spectra Cell Analysis, which provides a detailed analysis of every micro nutrient, vitamin, and mineral, and both a  24 hour hour urine collection and a saliva test (just in case one is more accurate than another) to check hormones and cortisol.

His remark last winter, when I had my last physical was that he had never seen such an even, balanced profile in any of his patients, ever. The one thing he did suggest was a visit to a cardiologist to rule out anything suspicious having to do with the slight heart murmur I’ve had ever since I can remember which can often be benign and in my case, was categorized as being ‘innocent’. The reason I bring this up at all is that the extensive work up I had at the cardiology office, including a chest MRI, ultrasound and EKG stress test all showed nothing but a very health, athlete’s heart.

In addition to eating my Paleo foods, I do also keep very proactive about keeping my body in balance and alkaline.

(Because the body can become acidic during exercise, I am always sure include a few  Paleo-friendly ‘extras’ to my diet including turmeric, oil of oregano, fish oil and raw garlic).

Those, in addition to the extremely alkaline nature of the Paleo diet are what keeps my body performing in tip top shape.

If I feel ‘off’ every once in a while, which is a huge anomaly, I rest.

I am extremely tuned in to my body and if I didn’t genuinely want to train and do what I do, I would not.  This is my fun, my hobby.  No one is paying me to do it.

When I train, I feel amazing!  My thoughts are clearer, I’m much more productive during the day and I simply feel alive.

Collectively, all of the reasons above compose my rationale for why I do what I do.

Does everyone need to go long?

Absolutely not.  However, I will make one general statement, which I feel applies to everyone:


We’re animals and we’re meant to be active, not sit around on our bums and eat processed, refined, pretend food.

Whether you swim, bike, run, train at CrossFit, Ski, lift weights, play tennis, do pilates or hula-hoop….just move!

Ultimately, given the state of health (or lack thereof) of our society as a whole, and the paltry amount of exercise, if any, that most people get, I’m in favor of choosing an activity you enjoy because if you actually like what you’re doing, guess what?  You’re more likely to continue to engage in it than if you try to force yourself to do something you hate.

That, combined with listening to your body to tell you when to rest, lower volume or intensity or back off due to an unexpected injury, is the ticket to keeping healthy.  Combined , of course, with a Paleo inspired approach to your dining!

Click here for a fantastic, well-researched piece by  Armi Legge, whose thorough research utilized upwards of 150 studies cited in his paper and does a succinct job at summarizing many of the myths and misconceptions on the subject.