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The below article is courtesy of Mark’s Daily Apple. Kind of an interesting point of view.

10 Oct

        Why You Shouldn’t Burn More Than 4,000 Calories a Week  Through Exercise       


Everyone agrees that being sedentary is bad and  unhealthy and that being active is good and healthy. The research agrees, too;  regular physical activity leads to good health, longer lives, and an improved  ability to function throughout normal life. When you’re able to walk to the  store, carry your groceries home, take the stairs, get out of bed without  struggling, pack enough lean mass to survive a  stay in the hospital, and ride your bike when you want to, you’re a  functional human being, and remaining active on a regular basis helps maintain  this state so crucial to basic health and happiness.


But what’s often hidden amidst the blanket pro-exercise sentiment is that too much exercise can have the opposite effect on health – people can  really take physical activity too far. I talk about this all the time, so much  that you’ve probably got “Chronic  Cardio” emblazoned across your brain and shake your head when you see some  hapless soul in spandex and the latest runners heaving himself down the street, heel  first. I know just how bad that stuff can be, because I did it for a large  part of my life. You’ve all heard that story before, though, about how even  though training cardio hard gets you “fitter” in one sense of the word, it’s  actually counterproductive for a healthy long life (doubly so if you want to  have some lean muscle mass and pain-free joints in  your later years).

We’ve seen hints in studies over the years:

One recent study found that in overweight sedentary subjects, moderate  exercise was more efficient at helping them burn body fat – including a  reduction that was far greater than what could be explained by the caloric  expenditure – while intense exercise induced a “compensatory” response that  hampered fat loss.

Another study  examined weekly caloric expenditure via aerobic exercise in a group of former  athletes and non-athletes and plotted it against mortality, cardiovascular  disease, and hypertension. Death rate was highest in groups 1 and 2, the ones  with the least amount of caloric expenditure, but group 6 (along with 1), which  expended 2,500+ calories per week, had the highest rates of heart disease and  high blood pressure. Those who exercised moderately lived the longest and were  healthiest.

In a study on  the exercise habits of college alumni and their impact on mortality, researchers  found that up to 3,500 calories expended per week conferred a survival benefit,  but at calorie expenditures greater than that, mortality began to tick  upwards.

And in a pair of recent studies, researchers found that moderate exercise – jogging up to 20 miles a week  at an 11 minute mile pace – offered the most protection against early mortality.  Running more than 20 miles a week, or running at a 7 minute mile pace, offered  fewer mortality benefits. In the second paper, Danish scientists found that  people who spent one to two and a half hours jogging at a “slow or average pace” lived longer than those who didn’t run at all or who ran at a faster pace. James  O’Keefe, a cardiologist and presenter at the Ancestral Health Symposium, was  quoted as saying that “after about 45 to 60 minutes a day, you reach a point of  diminishing returns.”

It’s pretty clear that once exercise gets to be “too much,” the  benefits are reduced, or even reversed, and it becomes a chronic stressor that reduces overall wellness.

And so I thought it’d be helpful to give you guys a guideline for determining  just how much is too much. This is a guideline I’ve had great success with,  whether I’m training myself or clients: no more than 4,000 calories expended  through focused exercise per week.

Is this a hard and fast rule? No, not exactly. Going somewhat above is  probably okay.

Is it concretely established in numerous studies? There are hints toward its  veracity in the literature, but nothing explicit. This is mostly stuff gleaned  through experience (but the research does bear it out).

Does it apply to everyone, everywhere, whatever their goals may be? No.  Someone training for the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon is going to require more if  they hope to compete.

But as a general rule for the general population, it really does work well as  a guideline. Burning 4,000 calories through focused exercise appears to be the  cut off point (yeah, you could go a bit under or over, but the point is that we  need to draw the line somewhere) after which health – including immune  function and oxidative stress load – and quality of life – including free  time, energy levels, and productivity – begin to take hits. Your performance may  increase, and this might be worth it to you if your goals are primarily  performance-oriented, but there’s a trade off. Keith Norris often writes about  this idea, calling it the health-performance curve. I’m inclined to agree with  him.

So – what does 4,000 calories worth of expenditure in a week look  like, exactly?

Well, the simplest way I’ve found to describe it is in terms of road miles.  If you’re doing 40 miles a week running or 80 miles a week cycling, you’re  hitting roughly 4,000 calories. We don’t just run or bike, of course. We lift  weights, we circuit train, we engage in metabolic conditioning, we row, we  wrestle, we hike, we sprint, we box, we swim.

You could use an online calculator like FitDay or ExRx to  get a better idea. For a 185 pound, 6 foot tall person to burn just around 4,000  calories a week, he could get away with:

  • Running six miles.
  • Lifting weights intensely for two hours total.
  • Biking 13 miles.
  • Playing an hour and a half of field  sports (soccer, rugby, football, Ultimate).

That’s a pretty solid week of activity, I’d say, but it certainly isn’t  excessive, and it would provide a far more well-rounded sense of fitness than  just pounding away at the road for 40 miles. Feel free to use the (admittedly  imperfect) tools linked above to figure out what your regular caloric  expenditure looks like.

Not all activity “counts” toward your caloric expenditure. Taking a 30-minute  stroll to the store doesn’t count as focused work. Taking a 60-minute hike up in  the hills does. Going for a nice relaxing ride on the bike around the  neighborhood doesn’t count, but doing twenty miles in a single day does.  Carrying the groceries from the car to the house doesn’t count; carrying the  groceries from the store to the house just might, though. “You know it when you  see it” applies here, so use your better judgment.

I’d also suggest that expending your calories through a variety of  activities is “better” than expending them through a single activity.  As shown above, lifting weights, going for a run, biking a bit, and playing  sports is more fun and probably less stressful than expending all your calories  through running, which is veering into Chronic Cardio territory. A calorie  (expended) is not a calorie (expended).

Look – exercise as often and as intensely as it pleases you. Just be aware  that, in my opinion (having looked at the literature and drawn from my own  experience training myself and others), 4,000 calories of focused work per week  is the cut off point after which health and happiness begin to suffer for most  people. If you’re an athlete whose only job is to train, and you’re privy to  massages and cutting edge recovery techniques and everything else, then you’ll  be able to handle more work. You’ll be far fitter than the average person and  thus better equipped to mitigate the oxidative fallout  from excessive exercise. But for members of the general population who have to  contend with the day-to-day stress  of living in this world, getting up early to feed the kids and beat traffic,  balancing exercise time with work time with family time with personal time,  sneaking peeks at the latest blog post, hoping to get enough sleep  to make it through the next day? You’re going to have a harder time recovering  from the stress of a 4,000+ caloric expenditure to make it worth your  while.



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