Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
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.

That’s it for today, folks. Let me hear what you have to say about this 4,000 calories a week guideline. Do you agree? Disagree? Wholeheartedly forsake everything that I henceforth write? Let me hear all about it!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I know the action of (tabata) sprinting doesn’t in and of itself burn many calories, but you’re supposed to continue burning through calories at a quicker pace than normal all the way through recovery.

    Mark/anyone else, any insight on how sprinting should be accounted for in here? (eg. 8 sprints of 20 seconds followed by 10 second rests)

    Kevin C wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Hard to say. I think the calories expended during afterburn from things like Tabada protocol or interval workouts should fall in the “recovery” bucket instead of the “exercise” bucket.

      Clark wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • The duration of a sprint workout should be regarded much the same as the duration of a weight training workout, high intensity with periods of rest, so the half hour spent on sprint workout is like half hour of intense training in the gym. Provided you really put effort into the sprints and don’t rest too long.

      Robin wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Just remember Aristotle–moderation in all things. He was ahead of his time! (By a few thousand years). Yet we still see the wisdom.

      David D wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Moderation in all things…….including moderation!!

        Ben Hirshberg wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • Re: “Moderation in all things…….including moderation!!”

          Please, no “clever” sophistry.

          Sam wrote on October 12th, 2012
      • I don’t really like that saying because it’s so easily misused.

        Hey, how about a moderate amount of Doritos every day? Or could somebody smoke in moderation? How much is a moderate amount of cocaine?

        Hmm, I don’t think so.

        Jeff wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • I think you’re looking at it backwards. ie. not to say “do a little of everything,” rather, “moderate the things you DO.”

          If you’re going to smoke, better be it in moderation than excess!

          S. Else wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • I agree , people often use that saying as an excuse for poor health choices or as a way to diminish people who are trying to be mindful of their health.

          Danielle Thalman wrote on October 11th, 2012
        • You seem to be forgetting that “moderate” amounts include ZERO amounts.

          In this case, to moderate, is to govern things within acceptable levels. For some things, that number is zero.

          Like DavidD said, it’s pure wisdom.

          NotApplicable wrote on October 12th, 2012
        • It’s easy to take Aristotle out of context because moderation was not a virtue itself; it is a mode of his virtues like temperance and courage. In this case you would be talking about temperance.

          Each virtue becomes a vice if it is exhibited in excess or deficiency.

          Mr. Payne wrote on May 6th, 2014
        • Chewing coca leaves could well be considered a moderate amount of cocaine.

          katherine wrote on January 28th, 2016
        • the more i do the better i feel, the better my results, and the better my attitude is towards others and the outlook on my own life. i believe if u can do it do it.a fish is only as big as its environment. have to expand to grow

          adam mansfield wrote on May 22nd, 2016
    • I don’t think the EPOC of Tabatas is nearly as high as you think. Yes, you will burn a few extra calories for a while when you are done, but it’s not like you are going to burn 4,000 more

      diablo135 wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • The extra 2/3 of a 1/2 calorie burned through intervals are negligable compared to steady state aerobics. Any new fad has to be the opposite of the mainstream fad to gain a foothold. Three meals became six. Six meals became “intermittent fasting”. High volume, no! Low volume! Low fat, blah blah blah… low carb, blah organic blah paleo blah blah gluten free blah BLAH BLAH… each “expert” chiming in, or more accurately, cashing in. Hilarious. Alan Aragon must be pissing himself in amusement. Get out the popcorn… oh wait…

      James wrote on October 13th, 2012
  2. This makes my daily 16-mile round trip commuting through London bad for me then?


    George wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • I disagree that daily leisurely walks don’t count. Whether its up a hill on a trail or up & down the paved streets, I sleep better & feel better when I walk daily. But I do other stuff too 4-5 days a week & “try” to take 2-3 days a week time off too to rest & restore my body. Sometimes I only get in 1-2 days of rest coz I’m busy/productive

      Betorq wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • It seems that more and more fitness buffs are turning up their noses at walking–erroneously so, IMO. Walking is excellent exercise, particularly if done in hilly areas. It gently moves almost every muscle in the body without much risk of injury. It’s also pleasant, relaxing, and promotes better health. On it’s own it might not make you an Olympics-caliber athlete, but it’s so much better than being a couch potato.

        Shary wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • No, Mark’s not saying easy walking isn’t good for you; quit the oppositie. It’s a key part of the Primal Fitness Blueprint approach. He’s saying don’t worry about it counting towards “chronic cardio”.

          Willem wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • Speaking from plenty of personal experience, the farmer’s carry accomplishes wonders. I suspect especially so when you adjust the position of your arm to keep it feeling proper. The benefits include increased muscle tone and development and better arm mobility.

          Animanarchy wrote on October 11th, 2012
    • Wow. That’s impressive. Hope the air quality’s okay.

      Alison Golden wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Depends on if it’s swimming up the Thames, biking, or running headlong through the streets…

      Tom B-D wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • “Avoid trauma”…. Bloody hell, that’s a daily occurrence on that journey.
      :) :)

      Barry wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • If you’re doing it every (work) day, your body will come to a homeostasis with it, eventually. As long as you’re not getting to work panting from exertion, it’s not hurting you, I shouldn’t think. If it doesn’t feel like work, count it like a walk. It’s great, but it’s not really work.

      JMH wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Yes, if nothing else because it’s in London! (hardly fresh, unpolluted air…)

      cis wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Don’t fret, I doubt you’re bursting into full sprints around town and you likely have to pause a great deal in the city. Mark is just saying that high mileage running, biking and swimming may not be healthy. It’s stressful. 16 miles of hard pushing it biking would be worse.

      Dr Jason wrote on October 10th, 2012
  3. Great post Mark. I know that in the past I could tell when I had exceeded healthy amounts of exercise just by how my body reacted. For example, I used to play intense sports for several hours several hours a day, and I would inevitably reach a point where one day I just wouldn’t fully recover and knew a few days of rest were needed.

    It’s amazing how much we can learn just from listening to our bodies, but this post is great for a more concrete outline.

    Colin wrote on October 10th, 2012
  4. This is one aspect of the PB that I just can’t get on board with. I’m an athlete and have been training pretty hard since high school. Right now, I train for triathlon and play volleyball. I usually do one workout a day, either biking, swimming, or running, and some bodyweight strength training. And I always feel amazing afterwards! I feel even better on the days when I do two workouts, and I’m at my best when I’m cycle touring, doing anywhere from 70-100+ miles per day. I feel like when I’m working out, and working out hard, all other aspects of my life fall into place. But I also don’t feel like I fall into the “chronic cardio” camp: I’m certainly not obsessive about training, I sleep a lot, and I skip workouts if I’m too tired.

    Agnes wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Same here, when I’ve been healthy I’ve always gone at it like a rabid wolverine, I figure I average 800 calories a day.

      Only problem I have is over time it does tend to mess with my immune system, but other than that it’s the best part of my life, it’s the absolute last thing that I would cut back on.

      rob wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • I’m curious how old you are. i used to feel that way about training in my 20’s but now that I am in my 50s less is more. I am happy with a 35 mile ride biweekly.

      Mimulus wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • I’m 28. So maybe that’s why!

        Agnes wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • I am 50, I can’t push myself as mercilessly as I did when I was in my 20’s and 30’s but I can get in a morning run and weights in the afternoon.

        I find I need to take a few days off every three months or so.

        rob wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Do you think this could be a result of the stress relief associated with exercise? I have had quite a few clients who say exercise is a great stress reliever and they feel great but when it comes down to strength and energy system conditioning progress, they have stalled out.

      Shane wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with that. The exercise just calms my mind and gives me this amazing life-is-so-awesome kind of feeling. It allows me to better focus on my work, I think partly because it seems to give life meaning for me. I know that sounds so cheesy, but that’s how I feel!

        I think part of it may also be that I don’t have any hard and fast goals when it comes to strength and conditioning. I mean, I want to be a faster swimmer, cyclist and runner, and I want to be a better volleyball player, but I tend to measure these things qualitatively most of the time. So I suppose that a lot of my feeling good comes down to attitude: I do these activities because they make me happy and not in pursuit of some greater goal. I think that’s what distinguishes someone like me from the “chronic cardio” junkies Mark describes, who absolutely have to get their cardio in.. or else!

        Agnes wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • I notice that in all of the positives you list, longevity is not included. Sure you feel better today, but once you’ve burned up all of your youth, what will you have left to rely on?

          It’s really just a matter of time preference and economics. Your perspectives all seem “now” oriented, so you’ve little reason to consider the benefits of economizing exercise to retain their benefits over a longer period of time.

          Of course, this is merely my opinion based upon two brief posts of yours, so please don’t take offense.

          NotApplicable wrote on October 12th, 2012
    • Let’s talk again when you hit 50…

      cis wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Talk again when you’re 60 like me. I think I’ll use this 4000 as a guideline, even if I have to convert it metric and SI…

        kem wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Remember as well, the life differences we’re talking about here may not be more than 5-8 years. If you bike all the time and love it and it takes you from 90 to 85 years life end, does it really matter in the long run?

      Dr Jason wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • I think you mean “does it really matter in the long bike?”, right? I’m just assuming.

        Clark wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Don’t forget about quality of life. If you die sooner from ill health, it will start affecting you long before it kills you. That 5-8 years of less living might equate to 20-30 MORE years of needless suffering.

        NotApplicable wrote on October 12th, 2012
    • “There’s no such thing as overexercise, just undereating and undersleeping.”

      Sofie wrote on October 12th, 2012
  5. If 4,000 weekly exercise calories is the maximum recommended, what would be the minimum weekly exercise calories?

    palo wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • that was the 1st Question in my head when I read this article! 4000 cals a week? no way! minimum effort for maximum results, that’s my motto. lol

      My guess is that the PB workout schedule Mark describes in his book is the bare minimum for good results, whatever calorie expenditure that gets you to. that is my working assumption. Tim Ferris also has some interesting ideas on the subject of less is more.

      Amy wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Funny you should mention Ferriss. I just finished the 4 Hour Workweek, and his suggested application of the 80/20 principle alone made it worth the read.

        In terms of exercise, I’ve decreased the volume of workouts while fine tuning some lifestyle/dietary habits, and wow, my schedule is suddenly open and I no longer find myself lugging around the psychic baggage of anticipating a difficult workout all day long.

        Kevin wrote on October 10th, 2012
  6. Every day, I see this heavy guy slapping his feet down on the road, with this slow, rhythmic sound. Round and round the block he goes. One day, I’m going out there, push him in the chest to stop and shout ‘Dude, you’re doing it all wrong!”

    Alison Golden wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Have you considered that he might enjoy this activity?

      rob wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • I assure you he doesn’t. He does it cus he thinks it will burn the fat away.

        Mark wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • And you know this how?

          It is impossible for a human to enjoy physical activity for its own sake?

          Nothing inherently rewarding from it?

          Boy people here sure know a lot of stuff.

          rob wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Hey may enjoy it, but his joints won’t.

        Shane wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • If he feels good about himself about doing it, who are you to judge? He’s out there trying hard to make himself a healthier person–at least he’s not sitting on his keester in front of a television. Cut the guy some slack, you have to start somewhere.

          KG wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • For all we know that morning jog is the best part of his life, the thing he looks forward to every single day and makes everything else worthwhile.

          He runs around the block, I run along the waterfront, not everyone has a scenic vista available to him.

          rob wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • If he enjoyed it, he’d be better at it (no slapping feet).
        I see that all the time, people running out of a sense of obligation. They look uncomfortable at any pace. Then there are others who make it look a lot more effortless and probably do enjoy it.

        Mike wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • Thank you for telling the people of the world how they should run, really coming from you it means a great deal.

          rob wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • you should ask him how the running is going for him and then suggest he visits marksdailyapple 😛

      sarahemily wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Yes because it is impossible for him to enjoy physical activity for its own sake, impossible for a human to take joy in physical activity.

        rob wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Alison – take a plate full of bacon out for the poor guy!

      Kitty =^..^= wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Alison you can push my chest… but I make sure to arch my feet and have some running form … actually as a heavy guy I swim and lift and spin alot more than run… when I am lighter I will get back to running… right now walking hills at a good pace sounds good…. already calculated my 4k Cals in my daily routines .. thanks Mark for the guidelines … I like them and good reasoning for the limitations… quality material … thanks !

      David wrote on October 11th, 2012
  7. Very informative and helpful, thanks! I’ll be sharing with my running/workout friends. (Already did once!)

    Nickie wrote on October 10th, 2012
  8. Mark, you should offer a class or figure out a way to get a “Primal Fitness” Certification program started. I follow your work to the letter of the law, and all of your blog posts are incredibly informative. I’d be one of the first people to sign up to be a Primal Fitness/Lifestyle Certified Instructor. Great post!

    Jason B. wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • I partially emulate Mark’s plan. If you want similar results as someone it’s probably wise to model some of their behavior.
      I usually start the day with as much coffee as I feel like (sometimes none) and occasionally sweeten it. I prefer to use blackstrap molasses. That way I get a dose of minerals including potassium with the coffee and sugar. I think it helps maintain a good electrolyte balance.

      Animanarchy wrote on October 11th, 2012
      • When I sweeten coffee I usually use cinnamon to reduce blood sugar spikes and get more antioxidants.

        Animanarchy wrote on October 11th, 2012
  9. If you want to tip-toe through life and play it safe, never reaching for greatness, and are more comfortable with the rewards of low risk, then this is the plan for you.

    Jeremy wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Not everybody has maximum athletic “greatness” as a primary goal. There’s no reason to be so smug about it.

      Jenny wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • AGREE. I deeply appreciated what Mark pointed out about normal lives: the waking early to feed the kids, rush to work, etc. My life is jam-packed with single motherhood to a small child and a 50+ hour/week job. It has been a sweet relief to not have professional athlete standards for basic fitness and health since there are no massages or doctors to help me. My greatness is achieved by the fact that I manage all of this taking care of others and yet keeping myself basically together. I love the common sense and kindness to self available to my though the Primal approach.

        Joy Beer wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • Joy, beautifully said. +1
          Mark stressed repeatedly that this is an approach for the average Grok/Grokette.

          Rella wrote on October 11th, 2012
      • Jeremy’s comment sounded smug to me as well but it reads logically.

        Animanarchy wrote on October 11th, 2012
        • Well, except for the “greatness” part (a wholly subjective standard of measure).

          Myself, I’ll feel pretty great outliving all of the smug athletes who would trade their most precious commodity (time) for a bit of athletic glory.

          NotApplicable wrote on October 12th, 2012
        • I think people are greatly overestimating the decrease in life expectancy, especially as applied to any specific person. If I run 50 miles a week, will I really die 5-10 years earlier?

          I don’t think so, but you can believe that if it makes you feel superior to me for enjoying some longer runs.

          Mark wrote on February 18th, 2014
  10. Any hints for adjusting this – I weigh about 2/3 what your theoretical 185lb. fella does… Should I be thinking in terms of 2/3 the time, the ‘calories’, the road miles….? Will it basically adjust automatically because it ‘costs’ me fewer calories to haul myself around?

    Oy, I’m talking about calories.

    Also – when you say stuff like walking around doesn’t count – you mean it doesn’t count for purposes of this cutoff, right? It still ‘counts’ toward making us generally happier, perkier, etc…. right?

    Sara in Brooklyn wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • This is what I would like to know too. For me (36yrs, 120lbs, female), I would need to do 11 hours of intense weightlifting to burn around 4000kcals.

      If it’s 4000 for 185lb, that’s about 2600 for 120lb… not allowing for gender or age.

      Idamonster wrote on April 23rd, 2013
  11. Did those studies control for food in? I would imagine the average person at super high levels of activity is eating more and likely eating more higher carb foods, including all of those nasty in-activity gels, blocks and other forms of corn syrup.

    I’m curious if a sample exercising at 4,000+ calories/week but making it up with high quality fat and protein would see the same ill effects.

    E wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • I am also curious about this. In the summer, I bike a lot but I don’t eat a ton of carb-y foods.

      DenverD wrote on October 11th, 2012
  12. Good post. More isn’t always better. I’m in much better shape now (at 52) than I was at 30 when I used to run 10km almost every day. Now I sprint twice per week and lift weights three times per week. Love all my walks, the occasional bike ride, kayaking, skiing, etc. I used to stress-out if I missed a run, now I just “go with the flow”. Having said that, you have to do what makes you happy. I know guys and gals who go to the gym 6 or 7 days per week for an hour plus and love it.

    Mark Cruden wrote on October 10th, 2012
  13. I understand that for the example given above, 4,000 calories isn’t a lie of activity, but for a 120 pound woman, burning that much takes more work. Does that mean women need more activity, or does it mean that we should be more on the “lower or under” side of 4,000?

    Deanna wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • I was wondering the same thing. I’m 5’4 and under 110, and it would take considerably more effort for me to burn that much vs a somewhat overweight man. Is the 4000 calories scaled down in my case or is it static?

      Katie wrote on October 13th, 2012
    • i’m wondering the same thing.

      cause i have no idea what 4000 is for a woman. 161 cm, 47.5 kg -> 5’3″, 105 lb.

      fitday says brisk walk or slow run 250 – 350 cal/hr.

      if we use the avg. (300 cal/hr) for moderate exercise,

      => 13.3 hr/week, yes?

      pam wrote on February 13th, 2013
  14. I totally agree with this article. In fact, I think that less is more. I used to run 5 or 6 miles 6 to 7 days each week and became worn down and low energy. My immune system and energy levels were also depleted and I was constantly craving sugar and carbs. Now I exercise about 4-5 times a week doing a combination of things from gym work outs, running and hiking. I am already starting to feel much better and actually weigh a couple lbs, less because I am not constantly binging on sugar and carbs to make up for excessive workouts. I know everyone’s body is different and that some people can handle more intense exercise (I do have friends that run this much, and way more on a weekly basis) and seem to be doing ok. But overall, I think a lot of intense, consistent exercise is probably not so great for overall health!:)

    Margaret wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Watching squirrels has contributed to my agreement with this mindset. Sometimes they sprint; sometimes they almost hobble.
      I think some of them enjoy entertaining people. I was meditatively sitting on a log above a steep forested incline this past week when a very muscled fit looking squirrel scurried near and clung to a tree trunk on the side exposed to me. It looked at me and looked happy. It moved its head. Then faster than I could see clearly it jumped backwards, turned, vaulted over a dead stick that seemed very precarious, passed some brush somehow, got to another tree trunk and then kept parkouring fast.

      Animanarchy wrote on October 11th, 2012
  15. Wow, this is really food for thought. I am in my late 50’s and don’t think I burn anything close to 4000 calories per week. I don’t do any formal exercise, but I farm on a small place and do a lot of walking and hauling. I am the most muscular I have ever been in my life, and for the first time in more than 25 years, feel like my weight is under control and stable. I’m not sure what to do with this post since my life seems to be working as it is, but I don’t want to ignore something that may contribute positively to my longterm health.

    Farmgal wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • I’m with you farmgal!
      I have a small farm, in my fifties, and walk everywhere, using a wheel barrow instead of a ute and mustering stock on foot instead of a motor bike. I hate formal exercising, hate jogging, but love to look for functional exercise, the above, digging in the garden, working around the farm. Horses for courses, reading this article made me feel a bit glum, as 4,000 calories on all that stuff a week is just a pipe dream for me!

      Heather wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Don’t sell yourselves short, Ladies. I have no doubt at all that if you are working the way you say you are, you are burning way over 4000 cals/week. Do a little Googling when you’re not busy hauling crap around and feeding animals. I’m sure you’ll find you are putting out tons of calories because your heart rate is constantly moderately elevated, and sometimes quite elevated. Lifting things and moving them around, for example, is surprisingly effective at raising one’s heart rate. Just for context, My RHR is about 64, and I regularly get it over 175 when I do deadlifts, pull-ups and other compound movements. The same kinds of things you’re doing working on the farm. And if you don’t believe me, grab yourself a Polar heart-rate monitor for about $100 or so and wear it for a few days. As the old saying goes, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised”.

        Greg wrote on October 10th, 2012
        • It’s still not 4000 or anywhere near though. I calculated that I would need to do 11 hours of intense weightlifting to burn 4000 calories.

          Idamonster wrote on April 23rd, 2013
  16. I think the “4000 calories” limit is just a guideline. Obviously, an 185 pound guy is going to burn more calories doing the same activity as I, a 125 lb woman, would do. For me to burn 4,000 calories a week I would have to run quite a bit farther than our 185 lb guy. Anyway, I find that I feel at my best, and get sick less often, when I do CrossFit 3 times a week and run 4 days a week (20-30 miles per week total). It’s a better balance for my body than running 40-50 miles per week and doing less full-body exercise. But everyone is a bit different and should tailor this to their own needs.

    NJ Paleo wrote on October 10th, 2012
  17. Interesting. Since I mostly run, I’ll need to see what 4K calories looks like.

    Steve Borek wrote on October 10th, 2012
  18. I’ve gone primal since Jan 2012 – lost over 61 lbs (started at 308lbs), started at size 26 – shrunk to a 16 and I LOVE this way of life!

    I bike 15-20 miles a day 5 times a week…I couldn’t bike more than 2 mins when I first started.

    I’ve also started leisurely lap swimming for 20 minutes 3 times a week…I couldn’t even go down to the other side of the pool when I first started.

    I do about 15 mins of strength training 3 times a week…I started everything on 10lbs and went up from there.

    I am a FASTER as well. I try and eat my last meal at 6pm and I don’t eat again until after my workout (around 10 to noon)

    Being that I’m still overweight, is this too much exercise? I really enjoy going to the gym in the morning, but I work my ass off when I’m there (literally) Keep in mind, I really try to eat at LEAST 2500 calories a day, but have a real hard time eating that many…most of the calories come right after my workout as I’m famished!

    Thanks so much Mark – this website is the BEST and I always recommend my friends to it when they ask me “what I’ve been doing to look so hot”

    Jen H wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Good for you. Very admirable on the weight loss. It sounds like it’s too much to me, regardless of whether you’re overweight or not. 60 minutes of leisurely swimming + 6 hours of biking every week is a little high, even if you’re at low intensity. PB fitness recommends 3-5 hrs per week of low intensity movement (55-75% max heart rate). I’d dial back those rides. But keep the swimming!

      The strength training is great as long as it’s full body functional movements! Modified pullups, pushups, squats, situps, stuff like that. Not bicep curls or stuff that’s too specific to a single muscle.

      Consider adding in sprinting. It REALLY helps everything. Something like this: Go to a local high school track, warm up, sprint 50 yards (half the straight part of the track), walk back. Repeat 4 more times. I can’t describe how great the benefits of doing that once a week are.

      But again, sounds like you’re doing an awesome job! Just some tweaks to your routine will help you get more results for less effort.

      Clark wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • Sprinting makes the difference between ogres and trolls.

        Animanarchy wrote on October 11th, 2012
        • Undeniably believe that which you steatd. Your favorite reason appeared to be at the internet the simplest thing to remember of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while folks consider concerns that they plainly do not understand about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the entire thing without having side-effects , other folks could take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thanks!

          Julie wrote on December 7th, 2012
      • Sprint training is my preferred ‘running’ modality. It embraces both the moderation and hard-work principles.

        I’m not a runner but the sprint intervals I do helped me a) lose fat and b) gain and maintain muscle all through my bod the past 5 years.

        I recommend it especially for those of us that hate the thought of running for hours and miles on end. Marathons aren’t for everyone or for everyone’s personality.

        And sprinting has saved my knees…just be sure to warm up. Quad and ham tears if you’re stupid!!

        Ninaneil wrote on October 11th, 2012
  19. Isnt a leisurely ride round the neighbourhood and a stroll to the store moving frequently at a slow pace? No mention again of “natural” exercise, working in the garden, chopping wood etc as well as taking the stairs instead of the lift etc and just trying to incorporate more natural movement and exertion into your daily life.

    Tracy wrote on October 10th, 2012
  20. Sounds sensible. Of course, at the moment I’m quite sedentary due to a foot injury. Oh well, c’est la vie!

    Wildrose wrote on October 10th, 2012
  21. I see the validity of this argument. You’re certainly not encouraging a couch potato mentality – just explaining that trying to train like a full time athlete while balancing other responsibilities can just cause unecessary wear and tear. If the body likes moderate amounts of just about everything else, why would immoderation suddenly apply to exercise?

    Lizzy wrote on October 10th, 2012
  22. While the wife trains for her 2nd Ironman,I will train for my 2nd Ironman spectator race.

    My goal of sprints to the hotel to grab another handful of primal trail mix and an apple are progressing at an amazingly moderate pace.

    MadMav wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • This made me giggle. I hope you both kick butt, respectively :)

      Shauna wrote on October 10th, 2012
      • X2!

        steadFAST wrote on October 10th, 2012
  23. Haha, yeah, being kinda small anyway, I don’t think I would burn 4000 calories of exercise a week, just because I wouldn’t care enough to do all that!

    Lauren wrote on October 10th, 2012
  24. I’m wondering how much of the increased mortality with quantity (i.e. calories) and intensity (like running pace) is due to the acute stress associated with mouth breathing? I’ve been experimenting with 100% nasal breathing, and have managed to exceed my PR on a local hill climb after an initial performance decline. The PR happened with lower heart rate, and lower breath rate (deeper breathing). I also recover way faster when 100% nasal.

    Any thoughts on this, or nasal breathing in general?

    Gorge Rider wrote on October 10th, 2012
  25. I think this is one of those things where if running too many miles is your biggest health problem, you’re probably doing pretty well…

    Danni wrote on October 10th, 2012
  26. I do a 2 on 1 off exercise regime,

    1 day high tempo weight circuit the next day 45 min hard cycle then one rest day on average according to my fat secret I burn 500 Cal’s per session

    That’s 3000 cals over an 8 day period

    I never feel over trained and have energy for my other activities

    At the age of 48 I have gone from about 205lbs to 167 in 5 months.
    See my post in the success stories forum photos etc.

    I am thinking of training every other day soon but I enjoy it and I feel good.

    I never have to take days off to recover as they
    are built in

    Pete k wrote on October 10th, 2012
  27. Mark, I love you; and I do get the general idea and it’s good, but:
    I do not have a good idea what 4000 kcals of exercise “looks like” from this. I don’t count calories of food, and I can’t count calories of exercise. At least give us another example, such as for an average woman. That would be helpful.

    Jo wrote on October 10th, 2012
  28. …Pleasant Good Day!…I would say that promedades do have some real benefits like: physic and physio. I do agree with you on the ‘4,000cal limit. Blessings!!!

    John R Morley wrote on October 10th, 2012
  29. I have the same question as others. Is there an adjustment for baseline caloric needs?

    As others have asked, the 185 pound man is going to need more calories than the 120 pound woman and less than the 220 pound man.

    So I’m wondering is their a rule of thumb based on daily caloric needs? Just a raw figure based on ratio of weights indicates the 120 pound woman would be about 2/3rds of the 4K or approximately 2600 calories, while the 220 pound man might be allowed 4750 calories in weekly exercise.

    According to my MyZone device, a 30-35 mile bike ride on a Saturday morning is in the 2k calorie range for me. But then a 1 hour Zumba class with my wife is in the 800-1000 calories. (Let’s just say even if it ain’t pretty to see 220# of me moving, I do get into it!) So that doesn’t leave much for bootcamp or lifting heavy things during the week.

    Tony wrote on October 10th, 2012
  30. Being the wife of a 50 year old cyclist that rides easly 40+ miles on a daily basis,and used to run 10 miles on a daily basis, I’ve always thought that his immune system gets compromised easily. He catches colds much easier than I do, and since he races/raced in both sports, he’s put it a lot of miles to be competitive. This helps my case!

    Shari wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • I don’t think you needed this article to back up your theory. I’m sure all you have to do is look at him with his shirt off and know he’s in bad shape. My guess is you have more lean mass than him. Muscles aren’t a bad thing and mr bones needs to start realizing that.

      Jeremy Creed wrote on October 10th, 2012
  31. Mark,

    I have struggled all my life with my weight and i am at my wit’s end. I JUST did the math on my caloric burn per week last saturday and I just dont know what to do anymore. I am capable of burning 14cal/min for 50-60min. 11 cal/min if you include cool downtime, stretch time and shower time. Usually that takes another 40 minutes. If I total up the week, it usually adds up to about 6000 cal week. What am I doing wrong? I dont eat THAT excessively. I need advice.

    TJ wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Have you read any of the research done by Dr. Robert Lustig? Check out this video series (this is the link for the first of 7 short episodes).

      In terms of exercise, I believe that less is more. But being consistent with the “less” is the key. Go easy on our joint systems and focus on continually correcting/improving our bio-mechanics of movement as opposed to focusing on time or distance.

      As a result of this approach my skills are constantly improving as is my speed; though I’m not even trying to go faster. It’s been a very interesting experiment.

      Anon wrote on October 10th, 2012
  32. What is your feeling about interval training, such as one minute intense, one minute relaxed, and so forth, for 20 minutes? I have read that this kind of workout a few times a week is extremely beneficial as opposed to “chronic cardiac.”

    Debbie wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • Doing High Intensity Interval Training about once per week is what Mark recommends, mixed with low intensity walks, biking, etc. It does work.

      jim wrote on October 10th, 2012
  33. This is yet another study showing that we (Humans) were not built for constant stressful, strenuous activity. I am with Mark 100%. Even just a few years ago when these concepts were not in vogue, I decided to start weight training twice a week, instead of the usually recommended 3-6 days. I got better results as I was more recovered. And, I had a lot more time out of the gym. I was very happy to see Mark, and a few others preach this less is more concept.

    Brian wrote on October 10th, 2012
  34. I wonder if this isn’t misleading. Its not that I have any research to counteract the 4000 calories per week hypothesis, its just that there seems to be many endurance athletes who thrive when doing more. I personally know of ex pro cyclists who would have covered a lot of miles through their careers, and after retirement kept a fair amount per week, and at the age of 73/ 74 are in great shape. They could pass for 60. I wonder if its a case of just getting enough rest when you engage in high amounts of cardio ? I myself have been doing about 10000 km cycling per year for the past two years and feel great, I have not been sick once, except for the odd food intolerance episode. Am I doomed ? :)

    Rory wrote on October 10th, 2012
  35. I am 63 yrs old and have practiced Mark’s exercise and nutritional plan for about 8 months. I have trained most of my life. Now, my workouts are shorter, but more productive. I have added muscle, reduced fat, lost inches from my waist and gained on my chest and arms. Do not let anyone suggest that age is a limiting factor in the results achievable using this program!

    jim wrote on October 10th, 2012
  36. Always nice to have something simplified and Mark does that for us. I don’t suspect it is intended to be taken literally for ALL individuals. “your individual result will vary”… I have been where Mark has been and at 60 + years know what it feels like when you ran or cross country skied for an hour a day for 30 plus years every day!! And averaged two to three hours a day doing hard effort work outs. Talk about Chronic! So I am paying a bit of a price for that past performance. Exercise is still important and “hard effort” workouts are still enjoyed but now it’s “all things in moderation”. Also, remember that diet is paramount in the Primal life style. As my Grandma said: “you are what you eat”…Guess she was pretty accurate after all. In any and all cases, a good guideline from Mark and “food for thought” IMHO.

    Ben There wrote on October 10th, 2012
  37. I’m not sure I’ve ever really come close to that number as a short female, even when training for a half marathon. My max mileage per week was probably 20 miles, so 2000 calories or so.

    Now with an infant and a six year old, I do even less. Three days of strengthening (15-20 mins per day). Two days of intervals (15-20 min). One day of a spin class (40 min), and one day either walking or swimming.

    Marcia wrote on October 10th, 2012
  38. Does this 4000 calories apply for athletic children and growing teenagers?

    Oliver wrote on October 10th, 2012
  39. Mark, I know what you mean about overtraining. I used to burn well more than 4000/week. I would train 15 hours a day, 7 days a week for years. And all that did for me was land me in the hospital repeatedly. It takes me a while to learn. lol

    Karma wrote on October 10th, 2012
    • 15 hours a day of training?

      That left you 9 hours for everything else, how did you manage it? Even if you only slept 4 hours per day, that leaves you with 5 hours for everything else.

      rob wrote on October 10th, 2012

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!