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Is Endurance Cardio Good for You?

endurance running

Today I’m answering a reader question (from a 15 year old!) that you may wonder about too…

Hello, Kelly!

I was wondering what your opinion on endurance cardio such as long-distance running was. I have researched this topic greatly, but so far have only discovered a couple of sources that discuss it. I know it is not very popular among the paleo/primal communities for health reasons, but I often ask myself why we have the physical ability to do so if God thought we should not do it. I am 15 years old, have ran 3 half-marathons, and am training for my first full marathon right now. I felt great training for all of my halves, and so far feel fine training for my marathon. Here are a few links that made start questioning the safety of long-distance running:

I realize that the problem being stated about marathon running has mostly to do with stressing the heart, so I devised a plan that includes running at a VERY slow pace, and taking frequent walking breaks even though I do not feel as if I NEED them. My logic is that running slowly and walking during the event is not as stressful as running at a normal pace, and that walking gives my cardiovascular system a chance to “breathe” (no pun intended). I have always felt better whenever I run slowly, and I am usually able to run faster after I take a substantial walk break while I run. Also, I eat a very healthy diet (kombucha, free-range eggs, extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, unrefined sea salt, sprouted wheat bread, flax butter, sauerkraut, wheat grasspowder), and I have always lived by the philosophy that if you provide your body with the nutrients it needs, it will be able to heal itself. What do you think? I would hate to give up running as I enjoy it tremendously, but if I absolutely had to, I would. Thank you so much for your input! I appreciate it tremendously.


My reply:

Hi Abby,

Funny you ask, I just came in from a run. Well actually it was more of a run-walk-run. Other days it’s just a walk. It all depends on how cold it is, who is going with me, and what I feel like. I need to include a run more often though, because it’s dumb the way I’ve been doing it, which is to run just enough so my muscles hurt like heck the next day and I have trouble going up and down the steps without wincing like an old lady. This is also kind of crazy, but in a way I kind of like the pain, because then I know I really used some muscle power.

I have a lot of random thoughts that I’ll throw out there, and it’ll be obvious that I don’t actually know much on this topic, but I’ll share what I do know or what I’ve heard, and then hopefully my readers will comment with their thoughts, too… (I always learn so much from all of you!)5K Kent & Kelly

  • First of all, I think each of us need to learn to really listen to our own bodies. If you love running, then I certainly don’t think you should give it up completely, but it’s probably good that you’ve found a way to push it a little less when you go out. Pay attention to things like you told me, “I have always felt better whenever I run slowly.”
  • I’m not sure if this is a good argument, though, to be honest… “I often ask myself why we have the physical ability to do so if God thought we should not do it.” There are a lot of things we can do with our bodies, but it doesn’t mean we should. I like to think of traditional people – they were more likely to do short bursts of hard exercise than sustained sessions, know what I mean? More on that below…
  • I do think that distance running long-term is really hard on your joints. When I was doing 4 miles consistently I always felt pretty good, but when I started pushing it to 6, I started getting achy. And these days I don’t even run 4 miles anymore. Instead I probably do 4 miles total when I go out (for about an hour), but I’m doing the run-walk-run thing. Sometimes if I’m short on time, I’ll run down the hill to the dam and around a couple blocks (about a mile) and then walk fairly briskly back up the hill – this uses all different muscles and I get a nice little workout in only 25 minutes.
  • I’ve also heard, however, that in the right shoes (like Barefoot Shoes – they have some cute ones!), you won’t have a problem with sore joints, and that we were never actually meant to run in the typical running shoe. (But getting used to these is tricky, they say you have to start out wearing them for SHORT distances and work up SLOWLY or the pain is terrible and it can even cause major injuries!)
  • One point that almost everyone agrees on is that periodic spurts of cardio (‘high intensity interval exercises’, like sprints) are really good for your heart and for your whole body, not to mention supposedly the best for fat burning, even compared to cardio exercises for an hour or more. (Mercola talks about this in the links above.) Once I learned that a couple of years ago, that’s when I began doing walk-run-walks when I’m out there by myself.
  • A good walk without running is the best option when I know I won’t have time to shower afterward! And it’s especially nice when you have people to go with you or some good music in your ears. Other times it’s great just listening to the crunch of the snow or the birds in the summertime.
  • There’s something fun about going out for a walk with a good friend and catching up while we exercise – even better is doing that with good coffee in-hand!
  • The past few months Kent and I have been taking walks together, too. It’s a great way to connect and even get complete sentences out without constant kid-interruptions.
  • I need to get back to using the Bowflex regularly, as that is also a really good way to mix up the exercise routine some, keep my body ‘guessing’, and keep good muscle tone as I get closer to menopause. The problem is that I just can’t seem to get on it when there’s always so much other stuff to do. I try not to beat myself up about it too much, though. I’m working almost full time on my blog, homeschooling, being a mom to 4 and a wife to 1 and keeping up the house, meals, etc. etc., there’s only so much we can get in in one day, right?!

So those are my thoughts, now share yours in the comments please!

  • Did you never EVER think you’d be able to run? Neither did I! Check out my post, 4 Tiny Tips for Beginning Runners.
  • By the way, Abby, it does sound like you eat a very healthy diet, and you’re only 15, that’s awesome!

Here’s a picture of Abby with her little sister. :)

distance running



  1. Interesting topic! I just went to a running clinic last night on injury prevention, particularly with barefoot running. There is actually a lot of injury with that because our bodies aren’t used to living barefoot as primal cultures were. I do like my Vibrams, but while my knee problems improved while wearing them, I have developed some plantar fasciitis issues. That tends to be more the norm. He stressed building up slooowly and also just using them occasionally rather than all the time.

    But I digress! Endurance running… I think it is like many other “extreme” sports. It is definitely pushing our bodies beyond what we are really intended to do, but if done carefully, building up gradually, it can be done well and without injury. What I gleaned from last night’s talk is that you really need good training. And also, he pointed out that most people don’t run their first marathons till they are well into their 20s because it takes that long to build up to it.

    There is definitely a camp of people, particularly in Paleo circles, that will say endurance running is not healthy, but I wouldn’t discourage someone like Abby who really loves it. I would just caution her to take it slowly, not rush into the marathons, and find a reputable trainer who really knows how to help her train without injury – especially at her age.

  2. Along the lines of “barefoot running” (using minimalist running shoes designed to alter your gait to simulate being barefoot), is trail running. Where we live there is a park with miles and miles of dirt trails. As a girl, I would never recommend running trails alone, but if Abby has a big brother, big dog, a parent, or some buddies she can run with, I know that trail running changes up a work out (because of the terrain) and is a lot more fun than just running on the road. My son and daughter like to run trails together with our dog! My son gets too bored running on the road, but loves trail running through the woods!

    • Wow. I think that’s a pretty unfair blanket statement. I know plenty of marathon runners (I’m certainly not one myself) that aren’t narcissistic, but are just people that love to run. I think any hobby/sport has the potential of making people prideful or snobby about it, it’s just up to the individual to not become that way.

  3. I think those are good thoughts, Kelly. If you are going to get into that kind of thing, though, you’d want to either take a joint supplement or drink bone broth daily (for us older people, anyway 😉 ).

  4. Thank you for this post. I’m NOT a runner, but I do enjoy good cardio exercise. I tried running regularly in my early 20s and always had knee pain. I do better with low-impact workouts and yoga. I’m glad to know that I won’t kill myself doing cardiovascular exercise, as I have gotten that impression from other bloggers. I always feel better and more energetic when I exercise regularly.

    Abby, I think it’s awesome that you are 15 and focused on truly good health. So many teens are duped into horrible diet patterns and I applaud you for your focus. :) keep up the good work!

  5. Its always nice to see articulate and thoughtful teenagers. I am not a runner, but from what I understand if you do decide to run (especially endurance) it is extremely important to be supplementing with magnesium, just magnesium not extra calcium. North Americans are generally magnesium deficient as it is, and running or other stresses will deplete you even more. Given that your heart is a muscle and magnesium is needed for optimum muscle function it seems to makes sense. I would urge you to research magnesium for runners. A great place to start is with the book by Dr. Carolyn Dean called “The Magnesium Miracle”. Happy running

  6. I must disagree on the calcium and magnesium balance. Most Americans are calcium and magnesium deficient. 90% with respect to calcium, if memory serves me right. To my knowledge, the most nutritious and healthiest food in this country and likely the world is grown using the Reams method of agronomy. If a farmer does a good job with following the principles of of this type of nontoxic biological farming, the calcium and magnesium content will be much higher than virtually any organic real foods you can find. That said, calcium will be much higher than magnesium and the plants will be much healthier and far more disease resistant than the average organic crop.

    I agree about the idea of extreme exercise coupled with a poor diet being something along the lines of driving your at 150 mph with the wrong fuel – you will accelerate physical degeneration.

    Jack Lalanne claimed he observed that people who went to the gym tended to be healthier than those who did not. He felt exercise was more important than diet. That said, Jack Lalanne ate a healthier diet than around 90-95% of entire population. Long distance running requires a lot more physical work than 30-60 minute gym workout. Many people mix in a lot of chattering with their workout. Look at Jack’s results. He was more fit in his last years than most of the population in their 20’s and 30’s.

    Personally, diet has made a far greater impact on my health than exercising. That said, once I fine tuned my exercise program I started noticing benefits. I work out 4 days a week 45-60 minutes. I mix up the intensity of my workout. I throw in some running up a steep hill for variety. Exercise like yoga and gymnastics add other dimensions to exercising like athleticism, etc. At times I do Crossfit type of workout and other times it is much less intense. Many years ago I skipped working out for several weeks and noticed I did not feel too good. So, it seems to me moderate exercise is a must for long and healthy life.

    Ayurvedic medicine indicates some types of constitutions benefit from more intense and/or longer exercise sessions than others. I found out what type I am the hard way. I burned myself out working out 6 days a week working out for 90 minutes each time, doing very intense workouts mixed with sprinting up hills and very fast paced weight training. You live and learn.

  7. Influenced by high intensity training like in the book Body By Science, I came to think of running as “bad.” But I happened upon and his articles on training principles totally changed my mind. Now I run with a heart rate monitor to ensure that I keep in the low-intensity range for my age. Also, I wear Altra running shoes which I guess would be considered minimalist footwear. They are zero drop shoes, but I have the ones with thicker soles as I sometimes want more protection between my foot and a rough trail. Compared to other minimalist shoes, they have the best foot bed shape, I found. They also have videos on their site about proper running form.

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