“I think the worst advice is to follow ANYONE’S advice blindly.”
Ashleigh VanHouten is a rising force in the ancestral health community. She’s a writer, health coach, and host of the popular podcast Paleo Magazine Radio. On the show, she interviews ancestral health experts, authors, and influencers to explore cool ways to optimize health. You can also find her on Instagram and on her website, AshleighVanHouten.com.
I met Ashleigh at Paleo FX this year, and after the event, I sent her a few questions to dig out her secrets – her recommendations – for health and fitness. In this interview, Ashleigh talks about the most important exercises for basic fitness, the worst advice in the ancestral health field, recommended supplements, and more. Enjoy.
What are a few of the most important exercises for the average person to stay strong and fit?
I am a big fan of nailing the basics first, especially body weight movements. So often we’ll see people in the gym (with trainers) working on kipping pullups before they can do a strict one; or loading hundreds of pounds on a leg press machine before they have a solid squat. I get it, people want to do “sexy” stuff and feel accomplished.
But going back to the idea of real, functional strength, I’d rather see a client do ONE good pushup before they can do 15 from their knees. And regardless of fitness level, you can combine the following “simple” bodyweight movements into near-infinite combinations that will be challenging to you: pushups, pullups, squats, lunges, burpees, and sprints. I promise, just these movements can get you fit and strong, and you can do them anywhere. Once you get comfortable, doing these same movements with some added weight makes your workouts extra spicy.
What’s some terrible advice you hear in the health and fitness space?
I think the worst advice is to follow ANYONE’S advice blindly. We’re all different, with different goals and challenges and tastes, so one blanket recommendation isn’t going to work for everyone. It’s easy to get caught up in new ideas and fads when you see it working for other people and think, ‘ok, I’ll just do that’ – because it’s actually much easier to follow someone’s strict protocol than do the hard work of testing, experimenting, and tweaking to make it ideal for you. But to echo a very accurate cliché, fitness is a journey—but that’s the fun part, you get to change and adjust as you go along and learn new things.
What 3 supplements do you most recommend for maintaining fitness?
Supplementation is a pretty individualized process; but most of us living in North America would do well to supplement with vitamin D in the darker, colder months; most of us could benefit from a high-quality fish oil supplement for a better omega 6/omega 3 ratio, which has far-reaching benefits in most areas of your health; and personally, I am obsessed with collagen protein. High quality, grassfed and/or well-sourced marine collagen is one of the best, cleanest sources of protein ever, and in myself and others I’ve seen dramatic improvements in people’s digestion, skin, hair, and nails. If you’re not into supplements, homemade bone broth will do the trick, too.
What life event or events made you obsessed with health and fitness?
I’m so lucky that my job is also my hobby: I get to learn about and experiment with every facet of health and fitness, and read books, listen to podcasts, and interview authorities on the subject all day long. I’ve had an interest in what the body is capable of for as long as I can remember, and that interest is probably the result of a confluence of a bunch of things: a strong, capable mother who encouraged me to try new things; an older brother who introduced me to wrestling, both literally and figuratively (I was never afraid to try things that were “for boys”); my obsession with the movie G.I. Jane, seeing a woman do pullups and single-arm pushups for the first time; my teenage crushes on musclemen when all my friends were into boy bands. I’ve just always loved strength in all its forms!
How might your training program differ for someone trying to maximize performance vs. for someone trying to maximize longevity?
I’m certainly not an expert in either of these areas, but it seems to me that when folks are really trying to maximize performance (we’re talking professional athletes here) they are often making a sacrifice of long-term health for the immediate benefit of elite performance. The dedication it takes to be the best at something can sometimes have degrading effects on the body, because let’s face it, we’re not really supposed to be professional football players or strongmen; our bodies are resilient but generally we’re meant to be a little more chill.
On the other side, folks who are organizing their lifestyle around longevity are placing a priority on slowing down: often eating less, fasting, working out less or less intensely (which Type A, younger athletes may find kinda boring). It may be possible, but I think it’s very difficult to prioritize both performance and longevity, and I often see those priorities change with age: in our prime athlete years, we’re all about grinding and hard work to get those gains, and as we get older, we focus more on recovery, wellness over performance, and longevity.
Regardless of your goal, it’s all about educating yourself, being adaptable, and staying in tune with your body’s signals.
If you broke your leg, how would you stay in shape?
It’s easier said than done, but with any challenge or setback, positivity is key. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t – because honestly, thinking about what you can’t do is a pretty useless waste of your energy. If you can’t work out the way you want, you can focus your energy on eating clean, nourishing foods, getting quality sleep, stress management, and spending time on rewarding tasks like work and spending time with friends. Chances are you can probably sit on a bench and move some dumbbells around, too.
In most cases, there are almost always more things you CAN be doing to stay healthy and happy than things you can’t.