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!

TAGS:  calories

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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201 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Burn More Than 4,000 Calories a Week Through Exercise”

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  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)

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. Just remember Aristotle–moderation in all things. He was ahead of his time! (By a few thousand years). Yet we still see the wisdom.

        1. Re: “Moderation in all things…….including moderation!!”

          Please, no “clever” sophistry.

      1. 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.

        1. 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!

        2. 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.

        3. 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.

        4. 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.

        5. Chewing coca leaves could well be considered a moderate amount of cocaine.

        6. 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

    4. 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

    5. 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…

  2. This makes my daily 16-mile round trip commuting through London bad for me then?


    1. 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

      1. 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.

        1. 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”.

        2. 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.

    2. Depends on if it’s swimming up the Thames, biking, or running headlong through the streets…

    3. “Avoid trauma”…. Bloody hell, that’s a daily occurrence on that journey.
      🙂 🙂

    4. 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.

    5. Yes, if nothing else because it’s in London! (hardly fresh, unpolluted air…)

    6. 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.

  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.

  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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

        1. I’m lookin at my fit bit watch and it says over 4400 calories burned today. That’s typically 5 days a week between work and working out im 36 this week. I definitely am sore often but I wouldnr have it any other way. The more I push the better I feel about myself. However I used to play hockey 5 days a week and that intense cardio on top of work and having little kids was too much and It definitely took its toll..so i think every person is different and needs to find there balance depending on how much energy they are capable of putting out and recovery time they will need.

      1. 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.

    3. 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.

      1. 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!

        1. 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.

      1. 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…

    4. 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?

      1. I think you mean “does it really matter in the long bike?”, right? I’m just assuming.

      2. 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.

    5. “There’s no such thing as overexercise, just undereating and undersleeping.”

  5. If 4,000 weekly exercise calories is the maximum recommended, what would be the minimum weekly exercise calories?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  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!”

        1. 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.

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. Thank you for telling the people of the world how they should run, really coming from you it means a great deal.

    1. you should ask him how the running is going for him and then suggest he visits marksdailyapple 😛

      1. 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.

    2. Alison – take a plate full of bacon out for the poor guy!

    3. 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 !

  7. Very informative and helpful, thanks! I’ll be sharing with my running/workout friends. (Already did once!)

  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!

    1. 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.

      1. When I sweeten coffee I usually use cinnamon to reduce blood sugar spikes and get more antioxidants.

  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.

    1. Not everybody has maximum athletic “greatness” as a primary goal. There’s no reason to be so smug about it.

      1. 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.

        1. Joy, beautifully said. +1
          Mark stressed repeatedly that this is an approach for the average Grok/Grokette.

      2. Jeremy’s comment sounded smug to me as well but it reads logically.

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

    2. If you aren’t a world beater marathon runner or triathlete, an Olympic athlete, an NCAA conference or national champion, or a professional athlete, no one really cares about your supposed “reaching for greatness.”

  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?

    1. 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.

  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.

    1. I am also curious about this. In the summer, I bike a lot but I don’t eat a ton of carb-y foods.

  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.

  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?

    1. 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?

    2. 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?

  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!:)

    1. 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.

  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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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”.

        1. 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.

  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.

  17. 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”

    1. 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.

        1. 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!

      1. 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!!

  18. 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.

  19. Sounds sensible. Of course, at the moment I’m quite sedentary due to a foot injury. Oh well, c’est la vie!

  20. 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?

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

  23. 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?

  24. 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…

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. …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!!!

  28. 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.

  29. 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!

    1. 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.

  30. 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.

    1. 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.

  31. 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.”

    1. Doing High Intensity Interval Training about once per week is what Mark recommends, mixed with low intensity walks, biking, etc. It does work.

  32. 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.

  33. 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 ? 🙂

  34. 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!

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. Does this 4000 calories apply for athletic children and growing teenagers?

  38. 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

    1. 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.

  39. The reason it’s counterproductive to burning fat because your body starts release cortisol. So if you are doing too much, your body stops burning fat. From a composiiton standpoint, you’re getting fatter and losing muscle.

  40. I think it makes sense, but how do you figure it for people significantly above the norm. I’m overweight now but when I’ve been in great shape I’m pushing 240 lbs (at 6’3)

    My guess is 5000 would be a better guide for me doing the exact same activities Mark lists at the end of the article.

  41. Very sound advice – i believe way to many of us over train especially those not in “sport specific training – While not enough emphasis goes into proper eating lifestyle. I would also make the correlation that if loosing 2 lbs a week seems reasonable you could extrapolate that of that choloric adjustment appropriating about 50% to activity/exercise and 50% to caloric reduction that you would theoretically would come to the support of this 4K expenditure conclusion

  42. I believe dancing should be included in any healthy activity. It is a time-honored remedy for ailments. (think traditional healers) Plus, if you are doing it with joy, it’s a whole lotta fun! It is my firm belief that any of these activities if done with joy have value added! Thanks Mark for bringing another thoughtful topic. Now let’s dance!!

  43. hmmm. I tend to run four days out of the week. Of late they have been 3 mile runs paced around 6:30/mi. Being on a very physically active night crew schedule has left me wanting to spend less time on my feet; however, even when I run 5+ miles I tend to still push a 7:00/mi. I don’t like to take it easy. 7:30/mi is my relax pace. Can this, over a prolonged time, affect vascular or arterial health or elasticity/internal organs/heart rhythm or vigor?
    I am about 175lbs, 22 years of age, and generally have prehypertension during systole (avg bp 130/80). Max heart rate during my runs is usually about 180.
    Apologies for the intricate question, but I gather, from your dialect in previous posts, that you enjoy queries such as this.

  44. Wow,I guess this is just what I needed to read…After years of chronic cardio (90 mins. plus most days, sometimes 3-4 hours), I’ve started cutting back as there are more and more signs that my immunity is suffering, including a low wbc count. I also used to crave sweets and nuts with the outmost intensity. There were days when I’d eat 3-4 lbs of nuts in the space of a few hours! Right now I do 45 mins. spinning twice a week, intense crosfit type training 3 times, weights 3 times. Apart from that I cycle arond 45-50 mins. 5 times a week (picking up my son from school) and walk about 1.5 hrs 5 days a week.( I’m 5’6″ and weigh around 110 lbs, which I’m happy with, so my weight is not an issue). Does anyone know if it’s still too much or is it ok?

  45. I just left a 70-hour-work-week-job, to find more balance in my life… including to re-introduce a regular exercise program back in! (I’ve stayed on-board with a more primal way of eating, Thank God!) In light of this, I truly find it a comfort — and a relief! – to be reminded here that the opposite extreme (too Much hard exercise) is neither helpful nor productive for the 53 year old non-athlete that I’ve become! This is a Great time for me to hear Mark’s words on Exercise Moderation for the general public. Thanks, Mark!

  46. I started the Primal workout back in early July and promptly snapped my Achilles tendon in the 2nd series of sprints. I used to fall into the Chronic Cardio zone, running 30+ miles a week, so I probably overdid it transitioning back to sprints (I was a 400M sprinter 34 years ago). I’ve had 2 Orthopedists tell me that sprints should be out due to a bad lower back and now the Achilles repair, so I guess I’ll be looking for alternatives to burn my 4K calories a week.

  47. Most people generally over-estimate how many calories they are burning. I am fitness pro teaching 15 classes per week. I average 150 -400 calories per class depending on format which ranges from senior fitness to hard core cycle classes. Even at this level if I average 250/class this only takes me to 3750/wk.

    My point being, the average grok does not need to worry about this. I also have my own fitness plan going on which probably adds another 1000 calories per week. I rarely experience signs of over-training (repressed immune function, insomnia, joint pain) I am 52 and plan to keep moving like this as long as I feel good about it physically and mentally. I may be the exception to the rule. Thanks mom and dad for the hearty peasant stock I come from!

  48. This post is a little confusing to me. It seems to focus a lot on how to incorporate the right amount of chronic cardio/endurance training? After 20+ years as a distance runner and triathlete, I almost exclusively walk a sprint now (for locomotion training). I agree with Mark (or thought I did?) that these are more likely the natural gaits for homosapiens most of the time – that we were, in fact, NOT “born to run”, at least not long distances at a time. Isn’t PB and PBF about getting away from medium/high exertion, long duration? Long being more than a minute or so?

  49. This is so funny because I can tell the age by the commentary. The under 40’s are fighting to defend their chronic cardio as I would in my 20’s & 30’s back when I would do 2-a-days and was never sore or injured. Invincible, believing it would never end!

    Then the 40’s arrive… Sometimes, I lie awake wondering if my hamstrings will ever completely heal, or if I just pushed too hard for too many years…

    1. Agree. Never thought I would, but I solidly agree. I love, love, love running, and for my entire adult life, I thought it was normal for me to get 4-6 bad colds followed by bronchitis per year. Still love an occasional longer run with a friend, but mainly walk and sprint and do pullups and lots of incidental movements. I lost 10 pounds, co-workers say I look really younger, I’ve been told I have a “slammin’ body” and I got one brief cold back in February that I knocked down in FOUR DAYS. That was 2 months after quitting regular running and wheat and high carbs. I’m 47. And I endorse this article. And I can STILL kick most twenty-somethings’ butts in any given race whenever I choose. And I do.

      1. Hmm…so you completely changed two aspects of your life (diet and exercise), had a good cold year, and assume that it was the reduced exercise that did it? Ok…

  50. Excessive exercise can lead to a host of problems. Excessive cortisol, increased inflammation, depletion of micro nutrients, leptin imbalance, stress of the GI because of the constant need for more cal then normal. All of which can lead to fat gain, a halting of fat loss, and health problems. Everyone varies as to when exercise loses is benefits and starts actually hurting your body, but that 60 min per session as a guideline is very good.

    Also stop running on pavement!

  51. I am 64 year old woman, eating primal since last November. I have been working Dr. Sears P.A.C.E. interval program–using my basement stairs–since first of June. My resting heart rate was 72 at that time. After 3 months of just 2 or 3 times a week, varying my interval and recovery times, and taking less than 1/2 hr. total per workout, my resting heart rate was and is 60 bpm now. I do some Nordic walking and a little lifting–which I plan to increase some. We went hiking up and down (including some climbing)very hilly and rocky wooded areas on Monday and I just smoked it. My heart stayed steady and slow and my legs wanted to do more I felt so energetic and incredible. My husband was amazed. I used to be guilty of chronic cardio and was a jogger from 1968 through middle 1980’s. Glad I quit that because I might be looking at knee replacement by now. Now that it’s cooler I will return to some sprinting but keep the stair climbing intervals. I feel and look 20 years younger and will probably be sending in my story eventually.

    1. I look forward to reading it! Sounds like it’ll be full of some useful data.

  52. I think this is a good study, but it ready is not relevant to most people. Most people find it difficult to get in that much exercise. But, for those people that do sometimes go overboard, these types of studies are great ways to show people to slow down, do a reasonable amount of exercise. I love being active, but I am in agreement with this article. And it follows the great general rule that everything should be in moderation.

  53. Wholly Crap, according to ExRx between MMA training and S&C I’m expending 6290 calories a week. No wonder my energy is low at times. Its time to make some changes.

  54. Wow this goes with what I have been concerned about my 55 year old husband who is a machanic. He burns so much at work and comes home and crashes from working so hard. I feed him 3000 to 4000 calories a day and he is still dropping weight. he is 145 lbs. 5’9″ wearing 28″ pants

  55. We need a better metric for “healthy” – since when is mortality the gold standard? Longer life thru chemistry (statins!) and limping along isn’t “healthy.” We need to push for a better health indicator.

    1. Who said anything about statins? Longer life is, in fact, an indicator of health. The healthier you are, the longer you’ll live.

      Personally, the reason I’m following the Primal lifestyle is so that I can live to be 90 or 100 or longer and be physically and mentally functional at that age. Over exercise is not conducive to that goal.

  56. Couldn’t agree more–I spent years running 6-8 miles a day, about 42+ miles a week, barely eating 1500 calories a day, weight training 2-3 days a week — all I did was burn out my metabolism and adrenal glands which has taken years to repair, but I am on the mend.

  57. Even 4000 a day for a smaller female is probably excessive. I am 5’4″, 130-135 and maintain right around 20% body fat. I’m very fit. I Crossfit 5 days a week, run about once ( short distance- sometimes sprints to 3 miles tops) and practice hot yoga 2-3 days a week which I do count as exercise since its a vinyasa flow.

    At Crossfit I burn about 350- 400 calories during exercise and an additional 50 – 100 in EPOC, so lets call it 450. Including 5 crossfit workouts, 1 run and 2 yoga sessions I’m barely meeting 2000 calories a week.

    When I have trained for bikini competitions I was closest to 2500 and I couldn’t sustain that. My body ached and my joints suffered. I was cranky, tired and overtrained.

    In conclusion, I think 4000 may be a bit high for women.

  58. I have been seeing these studies pop up all over the blogosphere. I still have a hard time accepting that less is more especially since I work out for like an hour and a half a day. I have cut down my cardio a little and am doing more HIIT.

  59. Excellent article, as usual, Mark. I dream of running an ultra-marathon barefoot, so perhaps I will have to exceed these guidelines. I guess we all have our individual drivers and, at least for me, it would be too stressful to put that dream aside. Many runners I’ve spoken to have the same attitude. Stop them running and the stress levels go through the roof. No-one ever made a difference doing things “in moderation”. I dislike that phrase…
    Keep up the excellent posts. My cholesterol level is down, my body is practically fat-adapted, thanks to you and a few other luminaries.

  60. The more fit you become the “less” calories you actually burn for any given activity.

    So this is an interesting metric to track.

    If you take an unfit person to a comfortable 4000 cals per week over time they should be getting more and more work out of their 4000 cals.

  61. I was really hoping this article applied to me. I’ve always wanted to hear someone say I was exercising too much. But, I caculated my output, I’m not even close to 4000 with 7 walks and 3 mini cross-fitish workouts a week. I’m thinking this is a rule for fitness fanatics to heed like my ironman husband. Dang!

  62. I agree with Mark, I did long distance cycling, clocking up 250 miles a week and was exhausted and in pain (before my paleo days) and although I never counted calories, I counted the agony.
    I still have an excellent cardio/respiritory capacity, regularly doing a brisk walk for 30 minutes, cutting and breaking wood for a couple of hours or going shopping on my bike, only sweating a bit and making sure I get to breath hard.
    I’m so much better and have time for other things and don’t drop with exhaustion.
    At 50 (on paleo) I have the metabolism and blood counts of a 16 year old.
    Thank you Mark Sisson for your web and book guidance which saved my life – I started on the diet 20th February 2010 which I count as my second birthday.

  63. I agree with this article. Do less.
    I believe in ACTIVE LIVING. That’s what life is all about for me. Find time in the day to play.
    That’s what our body is designed to do. Unfortunately, exercise has morphed into an unnatural, competitive form whereby endurance and ‘goals’ have become the end point as opposed to the supporting and maintaining of the bio-mechanical functioning of the body. Why do you exercise?

    When I stop and think about it, doesn’t it seem counter-productive to exercise at length if the body’s alignment is not exact? Isn’t that the point of exercise? To strengthen the skeletal system? And yes, the cardiovascular system, mental, emotional etc. Creating balance?
    It all matters, but when we enter into extreme duration (and of course, extreme duration will vary for everybody’s body) that’s when it should be obvious that injury and negative returns will come into play.

    I observe people ‘working out’ all the time and often in the extreme with very poor body alignment. Pushing harder and for longer may for some people cause beautiful toning of muscles to pop out but it doesn’t mean that those toned muscles are functioning properly to support the structure.

    Do less at one time. But be consistent with less. Take Active Micro-Breaks throughout the day. But most importantly: Practice precision with every movement.

  64. I would recommend the P.A.C.E. cardio philosophy promoted by Dr. Al Sears. Very eye opening!!

  65. Mark,

    I totally agree. Moderate activity also matches up well with a primal diet. You won’t burn a ton of calories from walking or light jogging so you can do plenty of this. Not too much strength training, but some is good. Better to include a variety of activities rather than just one kind.


    1. That would be awesome! I groan when I see them head to subway for a 12″ veggie sub on wheat. That’s a blood sugar crash just waiting to happen. But, yeah, it would be great to see them do a primal exercise regimen too.

  66. Great article and I couldn’t agree with you more in terms of over exertion. Running is especially bad in my opinion.

    I tend to do 30-45 minutes of weight lifting using free weights and body weight one time per week. The day after is my “rest day”.

    The other five days I swim, but I usually only do so for 30-40 minutes as well. This is usually done in the form of sprinting sets that are less than 1500 yards or so. I also do some very light MMA training (mostly technique). In the good range of calorie expenditure? I’m 21 M and 160-165 lbs. (6ft)

  67. I walked the length of the US. I walked a marathon every day. I never felt so alive. I don’t think it is good to limit your activity to some arbitrary 4000 calorie limit. I work a sedentary job. I bicycle commute. The commute makes me feel great. I sometimes run at lunch. The running makes me feel alive. I sometimes do PBF-type exercises at lunch. They make me hurt. I was doing that twice a week plus sprinting once a week or less for about 9 months and it didn’t do a whole lot but make me sore more than half the week. So that’s where I cut back, not on the aerobic stuff that is relaxing and makes me feel alive. I’ll sprint next time I’m late for work on my bicycle commute, but that’s as far as that’s going to go. I’ll lift weights as long as it’s 25lbs of food, gear and water on my back up a mountain. I’ll do PBF-type exercises once a week just so I don’t forget how to stand up straight. But I don’t want to be in pain half my life anymore. No thanks.

  68. I’d be interested to learn more about the “cutting edge recovery techniques” mentioned at the end.

  69. The amount of exercise you laid out seems rather small. I am a petite woman with two part-time jobs, and I commute to work by bike. Just the commutes bring my mileage to 45 miles, and I often walk to the store, and at work walk up three or five flights of stairs carrying things, etc. For fun, I take yoga and dance at least once a week. You surprised me.

  70. Like you said, IronMan training will need more: 600kcal/hr x20hrs/wk = 12,000kcal/wk. And that would be a moderate regimen…

  71. I’d like to see where CNS and/or Adrenal fatigue fit in here?

  72. that is crazy 4000 calories a week it would seem that I’m only burning a maximum of 2000 when going to crossfit 6 days a week with an average work out time of 20 mins. i may be there for 6 hours a week but the workouts are not that long and i don’t believe a light warm up and stretching at the end count. But I’m eating like 3200 cal a day, thats 22400 cal a week, at the moment and still loosing fat…

    how do those calorie calculators work?

  73. Could you give some activity/weekly calorie expenditure guidelines specifically geared towards women? For example, I’m a 140 pound, 5’9″ tall woman; would the same activity/calorie parameters apply?

  74. I know almost all your readers are office workers, but how do you reconcile this sort of recommendation with laborers who do far more exercise every day than a lot of people do in a week?

  75. Moderate exercise seems to give a dopamine/stress relief benefit without the risk of injury and trauma. Isn’t this the combination of the most effective dose with injury prevention? Isn’t that what we are trying to achieve?

    45 min moderate cycling recently got me out of a sluggish rut I had been in … And the added benefit of seeing the world on a sunny Sydney day.

  76. I really feel like saying 4,000 calories/day is WAY too general. It would not take a 6’0 200 lb. male much to burn that much. A 5’5 130 lb. female would have to work really hard for those 4000 cal. I work out 5 days/week w/weights, bike intervals, HIIT, and dance classes and I probably hit 3000 at the most.

  77. I commute 7 miles each way to work 4 times a week and according to my Garmin is around 3200calories alone! I’m 6ft 180lbs and also do 2 days bodyweight and 2 days kettlebell along with a long ride on a Sunday 50+ miles either outside or on a turbo. To hit 4000 calories I’d have to do a lot more of nothing!

  78. Runner here!

    Most weeks fall in the 35-ish mile range, so I guess I’m in the clear, but marathon training ups it into the 40s, sometimes 50s for a few weeks.

    I wonder too: what are the effects of single runs that burn 2000-3000 calories in just one session? I’m coming off a Sunday marathon right now and, while not sore, I am just toast. Energy = gone.

    I have to say though: running is hedonism for us runners, and we are okay with a little wear-n-tear if it means doing what we love!

  79. …and, also: “running” 11-minute miles? Uh, this is race-walking for me. My long legs can’t go slower than 9:30, and I’d need a watch and major discipline to keep my cadence at that.

    I think base level of fitness HAS to be considered here. What is a stressful physical event for one person is a whole lot of nothing for another. Example: those elites who jog the morning (or afternoon!) after winning world class marathons.

    1. I think that 11-minutes/mile is an error. As far as I can tell, in the study the “best” pace was 7 mph (or 8.5 minutes/mile).

  80. This article was more confusing for me than enlightening. I know “overtraining” and “chronic cardio” are unhealthy, but how do I judge? What’s a good method for tracking/calculating calorie expenditure? Those calculators you linked to seem to be worthless, at least for a cyclist. FitDay lists 14-16mph as a fast, vigorous effort, which for me would be a leisurely pace. However, for my out of shape, but similar height/weight, friend that would be a vigorous effort. I wouldn’t worry too much about the 4,000 cal guideline, except that when the weather is good, I do put in quite a few miles of cycling at a moderate to fast pace most weeks because I enjoy every moment of it, not because I feel compelled to reach some abritrary goal or log as many miles as possible. I definitely exceed 80 miles per week fairly often, but it doesn’t feel like a chronis stress on my body. Quite the opposite, and I’m just an enthusiast, NOT someone who races.

    1. Or, I should say that the article is clearly written, but the guideline leads me to questions that I don’t know how to answer.

    2. Also, maybe part of my confusing comes from not using any gadgets to track my “workouts” like a lot of cyclists and runners do. This is because my only goal is enjoyment.

  81. Am I over training?? I always been into health and fitness When I was younger, I used to run 40+ miles a week, and train for marathons and half marathons. Now I quick running and started cross fit training. I completed P90X doubles,and changed my diet to Paleo. I felt and look good. Now I found out I have burnted out my adrenal, and my hormones are out of balance. I can’t sleep at night, and I am tired during the day. I still do P90X because it makes me feel good, but I do try to take it easy. Am I still doing too much? How can I heal my Adrenal?

  82. I’ve found the best way to avoid overtraining is to use a heart rate monitor while doing cardio exercise and keep my heart rate to 180-age. That is so slow that it is well below any “chronic cardio” level and thus qualifies as slow movement. I believe you could do 10s of thousands of calories of slow movement and not overdo it.

  83. Two points
    1) Mark always claim that observational studies are worthless. But I guess they are not worthless when they support his views.

    2) If we do consider the studies, the fact is that they actually do not support the 4000 calories limit, and the studies Mark cited were cherry-picked. A meta-analysis of studies on non-vigorous activity shown that the higher the level of physical activity, the bigger the benefit. The highest level in this study is 150 METh/week. In order to convert to Meth/week calories, multiply by weight in kilogram, so 150 means over 10,000 calories a week (if your weight is >= 147 pounds).

  84. I was increasing my running mileage too quickly. I think the 10% rule is supposed to be once a month but i was doing it weekly and I did 41 miles in a week, one too many. No wonder why I ended up with a high ankle sprain on the sidelines for weeks. Im gonna slow up and max out at 40 miles per week and only increase 10% per month once I get started running again.

  85. These studies are worthless, but I anecdotally agree more is not better, from lifetime of exercise and experiments.

    However, putting a calorie count on it is plain ridiculous. Understand, that people respond to exercise on a bell curve, so, some people’s ‘too much’ would be much lower, and some people much higher.

    Far better, to judge by injury, immune suppression, how you feel etc ….though, many chronic exercisers get a high…and only when they stop, will they become aware of the damage they’ve done ( been there, done that).

    also, the idea you can put a ‘minutes per mile’ is beyond silly! lol …you have to measure INTENSITY for a start – for some people 40minutes at 11minute mile is an all out effort i.e. a big stress, for others, a gentle jog close to a walk!

    Regardless, the idea that faster running i.e higher intensity, causes early death is classic ‘non science’, the study when examined is laughable in its method. If that were the case, sprinting would be the worst! and weight training is even more ‘intense’

    Without a doubt, too much anything is bad – sprinting, weights, aerobics ..the challenge is to define ‘too much’ …calories won’t work, minutes per mile is crazy…you’ll have to judge by Kinesthetic awareness, or perhaps sign of overtraining – raise morning heart rate, restlessness etc

    If in doubt, do LESS not more..get variety not obsession..and don’t get caught up in ‘more is better’ i.e. marketing hype of ‘ironmen’/triathalon..etc

  86. This is a very important topic, the problem of over or under exercising, and trying to get it right. My energy level varies so; I’m sure how much I exercise plays some role, and also, possibly under-eating – for me. It doesn’t take a lot of calories for me to maintain a reasonable weight that many would consider fat. I’m maintaining an 80 pound weight loss – for 26 years. So – I don’t know what the right amount of exercise is for me! Your guideline doesn’t really help me. But, I sense it’s better to not push so hard, to take a day or two off, to not necessarily do the walk fast. It’s not simple.

  87. I did some calculating of what mty probable average weekly expenditure was at my prime fitness at 45. WOW was i surprised. K4,000 is not easy to do. that was a lot so i even further agree. I think in the end, over fourty its what you eat and for maximal health and longivity it is to for you youngsters. Cant figure out how to make my commit show my pic so you know i knw wht im talking about

  88. I recently spent a holiday month in NYC. I lost 4.5kg ( 10lbs) by simply walking as a tourist. In fact it is likely that I consumed more calories during that time than I would have done at home.

  89. hey there – sent over from Everyday living anyway, I think I do a decent amount of exercise and usually do something 5-6 days a week – I haven’t burnt over 4,000 calories in a week, though Ive come close. I agree with most points you made. Make sense. Cool blog

  90. But what about when you have a labor intensive job? Your body doesn’t know the difference does it? I trim horses, there are some days I work very hard, especially when I end up trimming difficult horses that decide to fight me (and I’m female).

    Could it just be that if you feel like exercising it’s ok, but if you feel miserable your body is telling you it needs a rest and this could be a good guideline rather than trying to figure how many calories I may have burned?

    1. Also, I enjoy running. And I run faster than 11 minute miles.. I get out there with my dogs and it’s fun (ok towards the end it does get less fun!)!

      I wonder if fitness level would move the numbers up or down for an individual?

  91. I wonder if any one has information on the calorific burn of alternative exercises other then running/cycling etc? Information specifically on BJJ (not MMA, please don’t confuse these)would be great as we often train for 2 or more hours yet never really exceeding 120 bpm. As most will know, it’s pretty physical stuff – yet not always so high a cardio activity as rugby or [ice]hockey and usually less physical impact than the hits in Judo (or say, Wrestling). I’m curious. Any info..?

  92. Now that I am approaching 50, my exercise consists of power yoga 4 times a week, along 1.5 hours of cardio.

    My body cannot take the pressure of lifting weights anymore (I still do it but much lighter weights and more reps) and in the summer I bike ride about 40 miles a week… during the cold season, I use an elliptical machine.

    I am in much better shape (lean and muscular) than a lot of “20-30 somethings” that are eating chips, candy, smoking, and drinking on a daily basis so I know that diet has a LOT to do with how I feel and how I look…

    Yoga is the best though! Great stress reliever, using body weight to get strong and muscular, and love the sweat to detox the junk out of my system… oh… Paleo eater here too.

  93. Great article. My husband just cycled 622 km in one day – he went against all your advice – although I’m a fitness fanatic myself there is such a thing as an unhealthy amount of exercise. Thank you for putting it so well.

  94. I find this really interesting. I have recently been attempting to lose weight and have lost around 20 pounds. I am now 160 pounds and would like to get below 140. I was losing pretty quickly-up to 3.5lbs a week but now my weight loss has really stalled. I think I am burning up to 8000 cals a week but don’t use a heart rate monitor. I also wasn’t really aware you should eat back at least some of your exercise calories so have been combining it with a low cal diet of around 1200-1400/day. I am now a little unsure whether I am doing too much or perhaps am really over estimating exercise calories. I should be losing just based on diet (I measure everything and am confident that I don’t eat more than 1400) but I’m not which makes me think I maybe am doing too much. Do people have any thoughts? I’m really a bit confused and frustrated at the moment.

  95. Don’t really think that’s accurate for me, but everyone is different. I burn 4000 cals a day in exercise about 2-3 times a week. With a minimum of at least 1200-1500 a day all from cycling, add in daily burn that goes from 6000 on hard days and 3200 ish on recovery days. But I guess cyclists are exception to the burn rules. Yes I enjoy it. Yes I’m sometimes on a bike seat for 4:30 hours straight. Heart and determination.

  96. I don’t believe anything your saying I am 47 years old I run 50 miles a week and I do crossfit and also ride my bike. I work 12 hr shift work(sedentary job) I train after night shifts and after day shifts I also have a family which I spend lots of time with. and I have ripped body of a 25 year old and I am beating 25 year olds. The harder you train your body will adapt and your fitness level will increase 100% I am stl getting better I am improving monthly. My sex life is off the roof. Train insane. Age is just a number

  97. A 6 mile run is approximately 1000 kcal at a moderate to slow pace. If 4000 calories is correct then 4 sessions of 6 mile runs would equal about 4000 calories for a medium sized human.

  98. I’ve been following closely your posts on chronic cardio and being an active endurance cyclist for over 10 years now I can see all this making sense.

    I guess the real point here i to allow your body to properly recover in between training sessions, because thats how we fall into the trap. But if you are following an endurance training plan you often have microcycle and macrocycles of training (i.e. 1-2-3 weeks for increasing intensity/volume and one rest week).
    Would it make sense to spread the total budget of 4k calories a week unevenly on the 4 weeks for the same total of 4×4000 calories? (say a 3k-5k-7k-1k progression?)

    Or even increase the limit for shorter period of times while trying for an event and then keep longer rest/recovery periods?
    I’m saying a fixed limit like this does not work well with a performance improvement plan, I guess.

    Looking forward to your book on Primal Endurance and really enjoying your podcasts.

  99. According to my fitness tracker I’m hitting about 4000 calories a week as a result of running (7.5-9 minute miles), lifting weights, daily calisthenics, yoga and cycling/walking to work. That’s fairly healthy right?

  100. Excellent article. I used to be a focused Marathon and Half Marathon runner for many years.

    Now I only run about 10 to 15 km a week and bike to work 120 km a week, added to that I make sure I put in 10 000 steps of walks every day ,and I also lift weights on weekends for at least 2 hours a week . I ve been doing this for many years now.

    I don t want to push myself like I used to ( i.e. run 50 to 80 km a week ) and doing supersets at the gym. I stopped enjoying my intense trainings for those marathons and would get more and more injuries and inflammations.

    By combining all of the above activities i mentionned earlier, I m much happier, not prone to injuries, and using my body as way to get around. No need for a car ( never had one as a matter of fact ) . I use my body as the main locomotion tool and I love it. I m 45 now and hope to do another 45 years of similar actrivities. Have fun and use your body as a working tool. I don t get the concept of being a gym rat.

    If I buy groceries and carry 2 heavy bags and walk long distances with them and go up and down staircases it s exactly the same as what people do in the gyms except with dumbels. I d rather use my energy and body for real life activities. That s what we were made for.

    I try and minimise my stays at the gym as much as I can during spring, summer and fall. Use your body that s why God gave you one.

  101. Hello Mark,
    Thanks for sharing great article. Burning calories help us to be strong and fit which keep us healthy. It explains all we need to about why it’s important and how to do it.

  102. If you are not working and exercise 3 times a day or 3 hours,can this be beneficial since my day has little stress?

  103. Yeah, one thing you left out was that walking is not a demanding exercise and burns through tons of calories. Walking for 90 minutes at a moderate pace of 3.8 mph for an individual around 210 pounds will burn 1,000 calories.

    Are you really going to tell me that walking an hour and a half a day is dangerous for you health and increases mortality? There are numerous studies which show that walking between one and two hours a day will slash chronic illnesses by up to 60%.

    There is nothing wrong with walking to burn lots of calories as long as your body fat doesn’t get to low, and as long as you are not pushing yourself to hard while walking.