Recently we had a report suggesting that for weight loss less exercise is better than more and now leading health and diet blogger Mark Sisson has expanding on the subject looking at a number of supporting research studies and making recommendations on exactly where the limits of exercise should be. This is from his blog Mark’s Daily Apple…
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…
Mark goes on to look at a number of research reports and then to recommend a limit of 4,000 calories of expenditure in a week, but what does that look like? He continues…
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.
- 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.
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.
Read Mark’s whole article here: Why You Shouldn’t Burn More Than 4,000 Calories a Week Through Exercise