Ok, Eva and GGP and a few others have touched on the aspects that I wanted to look at. I'm going to play devil's advocate here a little bit.
My hypothesis is that people actually benefit a LOT more when they start doing CrossFit or something similar first, and find Paleo along the way.
This may seem counterintuitive, because nutrition is WAY more important than exercise, in terms of long-term health and longevity. Several people have pointed this out.
But here's why I think CrossFitters are more likely to benefit from Paleo (compared to Paleoers benefiting from starting a fitness program):
It is much easier to learn the basic
tenets of good nutrition than it is
to figure out the basic components of
a good fitness program.
a. Good nutrition = eat meats/fish,
vegetables, some fruit, occasional
nuts and seeds if desired. Avoid
Neolithal crap. Of course, you can always refine your knowledge, but you can learn these basics in 10 seconds flat.
b. Good fitness program = depends on your goals. But, more importantly, learning the movements takes a good coach and lots of practice. Running, rowing, powerlifting, Oly lifting, gymnastics -- these all require substantial technique. Intelligent programming takes a while to learn. IMHO most people don't do a good job at this stuff unless they have a good coach.
Therefore, if you already have the basics of fitness down (or if you're already interested in it), then adding Paleo to the mix is no big deal. On the other hand, if you have no fitness background, adding strength training or conditioning etc. can be intimidating, as people often don't know where to start. I get this impression partly from the threads on PaleoHacks about "how do I start a basic fitness program?" from people who know a fair bit about Paleo, but don't know much about fitness, even about the basics. It is much harder for these people to successfully pick up barbell training than it is for a CrossFitter to stop eating bread.
Sick people become complacent with their illnesses. To some extent, they get used to being miserable, and they perceive it to be semi-normal.
Dedicated athletes, on the other hand, are willing to do a LOT to get better at their sport. They will make lifestyle sacrifices, they will eat weird things, they will take steroids and other substances that are harmful to their long-term health -- all for the sake of shaving a few seconds or even fractions of a second off of their times, or to lift a few more kilos.
Eva made an excellent point:
What is a better motivator, shaving a
few seconds of your mile run time, or
building your bicep a tad bit larger?
Or is it avoiding keeling over dead
from heart attack, getting too fat to
get out bed, or suffering months of
intestinal pain from collitis? I'd say
it would be the latter.it would be the latter.
Her point is very logical, but I think human beings are often irrational. I think sick people SHOULD have greater motivation to stick with Paleo, but they often fail because they're used to being sick.
Melissa's recent blog post pointed out that if you got into Paleo primarily for weight loss reasons, you may be more likely to fall off the wagon. I completely agree. If you got into Paleo because you wanted to look good in a bikini, rather than from a deep understanding of how nutrition affects human health, you are more likely to fail.
Example 1. Robb Wolf has an anecdote about a woman with a form of porphyria that causes extreme sensitivity to sunlight. She went gluten-free and essentially cured herself, was able to play in the sun for hours for the first time in her adult life, etc. She went back to eating bread and wearing long sleeves and a hat all the time because she just loved sandwiches too much.
Example 2. I have an acquaintance with Crohn's disease who almost died from acute liver failure due to complications of her illness. She subsequently found a medical treatment that involves getting an injection every 6 weeks at the doctor's office. She refuses to consider a "no wheat, no vegetable oil, no sugar" experiment to see if her symptoms would improve (and no, it's not because I was heavy-handed in suggesting it to her). She says "I just don't want to plan my life around what I eat" and that the injections make her life "manageable."
Example 3. Have you ever looked at adherence rates for physical therapy for people recovering from injuries/surgeries? They are ATROCIOUS. People get used to a certain level of physical dysfunction and they tolerate it. This is why Kelly Starrett is plugging his Mobility Project as a way to get faster times and lift more weight. It is surprisingly hard to motivate people to do mobility work by warning them of the long-term mobility loss associated with their injury. On the other hand, athletes get excited about doing mobility work when they realize it will help them become better, faster, stronger TODAY.
What I'm getting at is this:
Some people get into fitness because they want to be healthy. These people are more likely to stick with Paleo once they find it, because they understand the principles behind it and it fits with their goals and work ethic.
Some people get into Paleo because they want to get healthy. These people are not all that likely to get heavily involved in strength training or other fitness programs. (They think they're healthy enough, they're intimidated, they're too busy, etc.) If they do, they may not stick with it.
It is much harder to convince a Paleo eater of the benefits of barbell training, than it is to convince an athlete of the benefits of Paleo.
I think I'm jumbling a bunch of thoughts together, but I'll put this out there and see what people think. Sorry if my initial question was worded poorly.