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Why You May Need to Exercise Less


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Exercise is a major component of a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits of regular physical activity are well established. When adopting a Paleo lifestyle, modifying your fitness routine to include more high intensity exercise can bring great benefits to energy, body composition, and overall fitness.

However, there are many people who take their physique and physical fitness to an extreme level, particularly in the Paleo community. Certain styles of exercise take the participant to a state of physical exhaustion on a regular basis, which may do more harm than good.

While a consistent, high intensity workout routine may provide some benefits for those people looking to lose body fat and increase their strength and fitness, there is a fine line between training hard and overtraining. While running fast and lifting heavy may be major components of an active Paleo lifestyle, engaging in these physically demanding activities too regularly or too intensely can contribute to many different symptoms of overtraining.

Overtraining goes beyond just excessive “chronic cardio” or too many hours spent at the gym. Certain high-intensity exercise routines may push the body’s stress response too far, leading to a cascade of biochemical responses that can cause serious damage to one’s health in both the short and long term.

While short, intense workouts can be great for inducing fat loss, increasing aerobic capacity, and reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, excessively intense exercise can cause a variety of health problems, especially for those dealing with other concurrent stressors such as autoimmune disease, gut dysbiosis, or adrenal fatigue.

Overtraining has been shown to affect blood levels of important neurotransmitters such as glutamine, dopamine and 5-HTP, which can lead to feelings of depression and chronic fatigue. The stress caused by intense, excessive exercise can negatively affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, possibly causing conditions such as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is known to cause depression, weight gain, and digestive disfunction along with a variety of other symptoms. As we know, high stress in general can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, and the stress caused by excessive, intense exercise is no exception.

Another major effect that extreme exercise has on our bodies is an immediate increase in cortisol, the hormone that is released when the body is under stress.

Heavy-resistance exercises are found to stimulate markedly acute cortisol responses, similar to those responses found in marathon running. Chronically high levels of cortisol can increase your risk for a variety of health issues, such as sleep disturbances, digestive issues, depression, weight gain, and memory impairment. Excess cortisol also encourages fat gain, particularly around the abdomen.

When a goal of exercise is to lose weight or improve energy, overtraining can clearly be a major barrier to achieving those goals.

Overtraining can also have harmful effects on the immune system. Research has shown that the cellular damage that occurs during overtraining can lead to nonspecific, general activation of the immune system, including changes in natural killer cell activity and the increased activation of peripheral blood lymphocytes. This hyperactivity of the immune system following intense overtraining can possibly even contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions.

This type of nonspecific immune response is associated with symptoms such as chronic fatigue, weight loss, decreased appetite, and sleep changes. Altered immune status is also known to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, and may be responsible for the hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction and hypothyroidism known to occur in overtrained athletes.

Mark Sisson talks about the different signs of overtraining, which may be more common in endurance training but is nonetheless possible in high intensity training as well.

Feeling ill or rundown, losing muscle mass, gaining fat, and constant exhaustion can all be signs of excessive exercise of any type. Not only is this counterproductive to most people’s fitness and health goals, but it is also a sign of sickness.

In the path to better health, any activity that makes you more fatigued and more prone to infection is definitely something to be avoided.

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So does this mean you should quit CrossFit, or stop pushing towards your weightlifting goals? Not necessarily.

Here are a few techniques to avoid overtraining while still enjoying high intensity exercise:

  1. Reduce the frequency. While pushing yourself hard at the gym is not inherently problematic, doing it too often during the week is overtraining. High intensity, high stress exercise should be limited to two or three times a week, especially for those who are dealing with other health issues such as autoimmune conditions or digestive troubles. Compounding those stressors with extra stress from your exercise routine will not leave you healthier, and can easily cause you to become more sick.
  2. Get adequate rest. I’ve written before about how important sleep quality is for health. Not only is taking breaks from exercise important, but getting adequate sleep to allow recovery from intense exercise is vital to avoiding the overtraining syndrome. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, particularly on the days you train. Interestingly, one symptom of overtraining is disturbance of sleep, so if you’re feeling restless and having trouble sleeping through the night, you may want to reconsider the intensity of your training schedule.
  3. Mix it up. While high intensity exercise may be ideal for losing body fat and improving lean muscle mass, we know that high levels of cortisol can cause the body to hold onto fat. For this reason, you may consider trying a type of exercise that can help modulate your cortisol levels. Some may knock yoga as being too easy to affect weight loss, but regular yoga practice is shown to reduce cortisol levels, which may help in reaching your weight and fitness goals. Instead of doing a fourth day of CrossFit, try doing a yoga class instead. You may find that this stress reducing exercise helps you recover more quickly from your more intense exercise schedule.
  4. Eat more carbohydrates. While cutting down carbohydrate consumption is often seen as the best way to decrease body fat, a combination of overtraining and low-carb eating can actually raise cortisol significantly and negatively impact immune function. There is also a possibility that very low carbohydrate (VLC) diets suppress thyroid function, a debate thoroughly discussed by Paul Jaminet on his blog. So if you’re regularly doing high intensity training and want to avoid symptoms of overtraining stress, don’t skimp on the carbs!
High intensity exercise can be a great way to improve body composition and enhance your general health, if done the right way.  As with all components of our lifestyle changes, the key is moderation and listening to your body.

If you choose to participate in these high intensity training programs, always use your best judgment and don’t let coaches or fellow athletes push you past your comfort zone.

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Join the conversation

  1. Doing collegiate track and field… we do about 12-14 hours per week of running + specific workouts. I definitely note some kind of physiological change when we start doing more specific running ( repeats, lactate threshold, etc ) and racing every week. You always feel like you’re on the verge of total breakdown.

    I’m still not understanding the physiology that well, since I’m not that far along in my education, but one of my instructors basically said increase in stress causes more cortisol instead of DHEA to be made, which takes away from testosterone production and immune function.

    I think what’s most important is having a keen sense of how you are feeling and knowing when to back off. I’ve tried to push the envelope in the past and crashed. Once you’re in that state of chronic stress its very hard to rebound and retain the same training momentum.

  2. This. A year ago I started working on transforming myself from skinnyfat to well-built. I picked up a weight training regime (4 days a week). Started off pretty well but soon found myself super fatigued and finding it difficult to get the gains I was after.

    After 3 months of this I decided to drop down to 3 workouts a week and incorporate HIIT. Result more energy, improved gains and looking far more healthier.

    Less is definitely more!

  3. Hello, similar to George, I took up running in 2005 so I could spend more time with my wife, who was training for her first marathon (I was a bike commuter and hiker). I fell in love with running and eventually got up to the point where I was running races year round, including 5K up to 100K (mostly trail) races. Unfortunately I started to feel run down despite placing well at races. I had my cortisol levels checked and found that my adrenal function was in the tank. No surprise. I am already signed up for two marathons, two 50 milers and one 130 mile stage race in 2012, but think I will take a big break for running after that. I will be 52 this summer and probably due for a change in life style.

  4. I run several marathons and ultra-marathons a year. Now I am training for my first 100 mile race in the summer. I run about 50 miles, 6 days a week. I am 52 years old. I started running in 2001 and lost 50 lbs in one year. In the process, I felt in love with running. I started eating low carb in the summer. I lost 10 lbs and my running is even better. I enjoy what I am doing and I see no harm doing it. I am happier than ever with no side-effects. I just wanted to share my situation 🙂

    • Hi George,

      Wow, that’s soooooooooo awesome! 🙂

      If it’d be okay, can I ask you to post your typical day’s meal since you started going low carb? I am not really sure if the reason why I broke down is because all I long I was thinking I was going “low carb”; but in fact, I was on a “ridiculously what-was-I-thinking low carb” diet. Also, I was so addicted to caffeine then I’d typically have 4-5 cups a day.

      Thank you so much, and good luck with your training and races! 🙂

  5. some basic exercise physiology will help. I remember attending private reception at the Stark Center in April 2010 for Dr Kenneth Cooper, pioneering father of aerobic training He emphasized that evening points his publications have brought forward for more than a decade: back off the endurance work to include life-extending anaerobic strength training. How come? Endurance work emphasizes type I fiber, and excessive or sole endurance training contributes to muscle wasting (sarcopenia – chronic condition systemic atrophy, not to mention disruptive training of heart rhythms rendering endurance athletes high risk for sudden death). Evans & Rosenberg’s work of the 80s at Tufts showed that muscle wasting is not a normal condition of aging, instead the primary cause of premature aging. Loss of strength muscle results in metabolic erosion, in those days referred to as Metabolic Syndrome and Syndrome X. Scientists in genomic and molecular biology of exercise physiology now have expanded the notion to include upwards of 35 major causes of disease and death stemming from loss of strength and stimulation of adverse protein turnover. Paleo has not caught up with that science as is evident in Loren Cordain’s new Paleo Cookbook.
    I would recommend a very slow come back in the gym with resistance training. I would not recommend HIT nor HIIT for starters, instead a metabolic rehab program comfortably addressing moderate strength training three times weekly, and limiting your workout time to under an hour. Either ‘intensity’ driven model most likely would backfire given your condition.

    Hyperthyroidism is a secondary or down stream condition stemming from far more primary causality.

    • Thanks, Ken. Really appreciate your reply 🙂

      Actually just last October, I started training yet again for this sport. I joined a triathlon race in December, then boom, the very next week, I was worse than before. More hypothyroid symptoms. So I guess, your advice really complements what I have been failing to realize: I have to slow down.

      Will let you know how it goes after a month 🙂

  6. Wow, this sounded just like me!

    I’m a female triathlete and long distance cyclist who trains 6-7 times a week, 2-5 hours a day. I barely take a rest, eat so little (I barely have appetite after training), and race often.

    After years of overtraining, just last year, my body broke down and I was diagnosed with secondary hypothyroidism.

    It’s really sad that it’s been almost a year and my thyroid levels have not gone back to normal yet. I cannot train anymore, have gained a lot of weight, and I feel like crap every day, with all low thyroid symptoms still lingering despite medications and a gluten-free diet.

    Really hoping I can still go back to my favorite sport soon… 🙁

  7. Do you think a high carb diet combined with heavy training raises the potential for glycation?

    Low carb diets for athletes are a bad choice, but many advocates of low-carb diets say that a high carb diet, even when combined with heavy training (strength or endurance) will cause glycation from the glucose in your bloodstream.

    This doesn’t make sense since the training is using the glucose and people who exercise have better glucose control.

    I’m curious about your thoughts.



    • Glucose is supposed to be in your bloodstream, you’d die without it. If you’re worried, just reduce the carbs, and reduce further your fruit and dairy intake. I’m no expert, but wikipedia says that fructose and Galactose produce 10x the AGE’s of glucose. And don’t add sugars when cooking fat and protein.

      • Brad, I never said glucose was toxic or that it shouldn’t be in your bloodstream. I was talking about high levels of circulating glucose for long periods of time which might result from an excessive carb intake.

        • I guess we need to know what you mean by “high levels”? You probably realize that high levels will not stay in circulating for long as that’s the job of insulin and other mechanisms to get it out of there. It’s my understanding that excessive carb intake that hit’s the bloodstream over that which can be absorbed by muscle tissue and the liver will get stored as adipose tissue (fat). Are you saying that there can still be high levels remaining in the blood beyond this?

    • Armi, having re-read you original post, I think it’s a bit too vague. When you say “low carb diets are bad for athletes” I think this also is too general a statement and I don’t think it’s true in all cases. You need to quantify what “low carb” is in this case and what kind of athlete. I personally don’t think eating say 150-200 grams of carbs per day is hurting my weight lifting or sprinting, though I do recommend carb loading on leg workout days, just to help protect against cramping. I’ve had problems with my calves potentially due to this. So again, when you say “eating high carb” how many grams/day are you talking about? cheers, -Brad-

  8. I do a workout program called 10 minute trainer. i work out 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. it’s a very intense 10 minutes. and one day a week i do an hour of yoga. i follow a “paleo” diet, my own individualized one of course. so far i have lost 50 lbs, and i have 45 lbs left to go. i am thinking about starting to do 20 minutes a day, but i am scared maybe it will be too much…and i might plateau. who knows.

    • Vitoria, goodonya as the aussies say. That means congratulations!
      What is it that you are doing intensely for 10 minutes per day?

  9. Hi Chris,

    This is something I’ve been giving a lot of though to lately.

    I am a chronic ‘over exerciser’ – I tend to self-medicate my depression with exercise (working out 2-3 times a day) and I prefer high intensity exercise as it gives me a ‘buzz’ (which I feel I need because I often feel lethargic and sluggish).

    However, I am now 31 and haven’t had a regular period for 4 years (and it has been completely absent for the last 4 months). This clearly isn’t healthy and I have been trying to figure out the cause. I’m not underweight at 130lbs at 5’5″ (and I want to lose weight – part of the reason for the ‘excessive’ exercise).

    Lately I have come to the conclusion that exercising too much might be causing the amenorrhea and I’m ‘trying’ to ease things off a little (although it’s very hard because I’m REALLY afraid of gaining weight). I’ve also just bought your PPC programme (I started the Reset today actually) and I’m hoping that by following your programme and reducing my exercise I’ll be able to shed some body fat, get rid of the feelings of chronic lethargy/fatigue and also get my menstrual cycle back!

    If you’re interested I’ll let you know how things go!


    (PS I’m from the UK, and the doctors here have been very unhelpful regarding my menstrual irregularities – they checked my TSH and T4, and my sex hormones (at my insistence) and when the results came back ‘in the normal range’ they told me that not having a period was ‘not a problem’)

    • Hi Sally, what is your diet like? As they say body composition and fat, or lack of, is 80% diet and 20% exercise.

      • Hi Brad,

        To be honest my diet hasn’t been great…not bad by many standards but I think it has included too many grains, and/or too much dairy and sugar – hence why I’m trying Chris’s PPC. I really want to see how excluding those foods from my diet impacts my body. What really bothers me at the moment though is my lack of a period and I think that that’s probably the result of doing too much exercise…hopefully following the PPC will keep the weight off even if I reduce the number of workouts I do daily!

    • Hi Sally,

      I used to be a chronic over exerciser, and I have quite a few friends who fall into that category. I lost my period for about 2 years, but though I was exercising at the time, I just got sick with an autoimmune disease, which was most likely the whole reason I got lost my period (too much stress on my body from flares). My husband and I were finally ready to have a baby, but obviously it made it impossible since I didn’t have a period and didn’t ovulate.

      Anyways, after visiting a reproductive endocrinologist, I was diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea. Obviously, you would need to get checked out for this, but if I were you, I would do some research about it. I found a forum with women who wanted to get pregnant but were diagnosed with the same, but the majority of them had lost their period because they had exercised too much and didn’t eat enough. It had nothing to do with bodyfat percentage either, it was just when your body is under too much stress (wether it be from excessive exercise, not eating enough or just stress in general) your body shuts down its reproductive cycle since it thinks its not a good time to support a baby.

      It’s been a while so I can’t remember the exact hormone profile, but usually you have low estrogen, low FSH & LH and low progesterone, that can be indicative of HA (hypothalamic amenorrhea). Also if you fail the progesterone test (you take progesterone supplements for a period of time and then fail to get a period after you stop), that can also be a sign.

      Hope I’m not bombarding you with too much information, but it took a long time for me to finally get a correct diagnosis, and I was also told all my hormones fell into the “normal range”. I hope you find out the cause. Not getting a period can be detrimental to your body in the long run, though the doctor’s may say it’s “not a problem”. Osteoporosis is one issue, but if you have low estrogen I believe that can lead to other major issues. Hope you can get this figured out.

      • Hi Amber,

        Thanks very much for your detailed reply! I’d never heard of hypothalamic amenorrhea before but I think it seems highly likely that that is what I’m suffering from – I first ‘lost’ my period 4 years ago when I moved home and jobs and I’ve recently done the same again. Like I said, I also do tend to over-exercise – largely because I enjoy it but also partly because I want to lose weight/fat. Plus I’m an anxiety-prone person ‘by nature’ and worry a lot about things. AND, although I don’t think I chronically undereat, I always TRY to undereat (often unsuccessfully), again to try to lose weight.

        Given Chris’s latest audio on the body fat set point, and this post on over-exercising, I’m going to try to refocus all my efforts on getting my body to be ‘happy’ at a lower body fat level rather than trying to battle with it by attempting to increase caloric expenditure and decrease caloric intake – the plan is more yoga, less HIT and the PPC diet (eating as much as I want and not counting kcals). I’ll also wean myself off caffeine (but at the moment staying away from dairy and oats is tough enough – I’ll try to kick the caffeine (i.e. green tea) completely in a week or two).

        I agree that the loss of my period is a serious issue – I don’t want children (ever) but I recognize that amenorrhea is often a sign that health isn’t optimal (or even ‘good’). I’ve just moved area and have a new doctor – I went to see him before Christmas but my notes hadn’t been transferred at that point and he said to rebook an appointment for Feb. Hopefully, this new doc will take my condition more seriously, and I’m going to print out your message so that I can ask him about the different hormones and tests you mentioned.

        Thanks again for your thoughtful reply!


        • Hi Sally and Amber,
          I want to thank you both for sharing your experiences. I relate succinctly with your prediciment of too much cardio in an attempt to lose that last five lbs. I would really like to know what you discover, and what works, because I am currently tired of the constant exercise, feeling tired, and being afraid of gaining weight if I stop. I had what Amber referred to as hypothalamic amenorrhea for three years, with no clear diagnosis, and then once I became regularly sexually active my menses returned. Who knew! I have known two other girls who had a similar experience.
          Anyway, don’t know how we might stay in contact Sally, but I would really like to know how this plays out for you.

    • I would also recommend the book “Fully Fertile.” It’s great even if you don’t want to get pregnant- it is a yoga based program and covers body, mind, and spirit. Many women are infertile due to hypthalamic amennorhia, and this book guides you in how to CHILL OUT and get your health back. The book also recommends various professionals to work with, such as an endocrinologist, acupuncturist, and psychologist. Have you thought about getting a consultation with Chris?

      I would absolutely recommend working with a psychologist on the anxiety creating the over-exercising and body image issues. At 5’5″ and 130#, I would guess that you are not over weight but would like to be 5-10# thinner- because I have been in that camp myself my entire adult life. It’s not worth hating your body. You are already beautiful.

      If your hormones are really wonky and if you’ve actually been under-eating, you may find that you gain a little weight (maybe up to 10#) as your metabolism tries to heal and your hormones try to figure out what’s going on. Then it’ll go back down, but the whole thing can take several months. This is another reason to find some healthcare practitioners to work with- you need someone to help you stay confident while your behavior and mentality change.

      Good luck! And do check out that book and seek out professional help!


  10. My training plan is simple.
    I don’t do specific training. I just make sure I use all the muscle groups every day, just to that little extra beyond necessity. I.e. I take the stairs instead of the lift. (elevator). Just little things like that, o top of my strolling. At 72 I need vigorous exercise less. Point is, I feel fine and most things are returning to normal.

  11. Overtraining or underrecovery is a serious problem. But it is a preventable problem. A good coach and trainer should be well versed in how to set up training plans, monitoring, and recognizing overtrianing. Remember that the key is allowing the body to recover from the exercise. It is in the recovery phase that adaptation occurs.

    • In my experience, certainly trainers and even more coaches than you’d believe are inexperienced with over-training. It’s largely a hot topic among the HIT crowd: when Jones first wrote, over training – fired by detrimental reliance on training advice coming from bodybuilders using steroids – led to too much over training. Then HIT/Nautilus went in the other direction, most of it now in rather serious deviation from Arthur Jones recommendation of three full body workouts weekly, about 8-12 movements, with 1-3 sets to failure: more importantly, his strongest admonition was to ‘know yourself.’ Same goes for under v over training. If all else fails, you can monitor by using urine sticks you pee on to test pH level, then back off some if you start going acidic – but first make sure you’re getting adequate vegetables since that can throw off pH with a false positive reading ascribed to over training.
      Remember, too, that adaptive recuperation should increase. In my experience, intensity deficiency is a far bigger basis for failure to gain. And intensity is equally the standard whether in a one set minimalist training plan, or in a training density orientation using 10 sets with little rest and optimal pump.

      • Hi Ken, how does adaptive recuperation work? Your body learns to recuperate faster over time, perhaps as you get stronger and/or used to working muscles? How is this affected if one was to increase the training volume or resistance as strength increases in order to keep the intensity high and continue to improve inroading, adaptation, growth, and strength of muscles? Or am I completely misunderstanding what you mean by “adaptive recuperation”? thanks! -Brad-

        • Brad:
          All good, well informed questions. We’re only beginning to understand the answers! Here’s one for you. Supplementing with beta-alanine has worthy effects for building carnosine stores. Athletes have upwards of 25% greater carnosine stores than ‘normal’ folks. Whales have huge amounts to offset the burn associated with deep dives.
          How do we adapt? Our genes are ready to implement upgraded development in response to our inherited nature. I’d suggest turning the question around. Given genomic ancestral survival rendering most of our ancestors as equivalent to life long contemporary athletes, what do we need to do to more fully embody the lives we’ve been given, offsetting how modern civilization’s physical and belief habits have taken our nature, our lives, away from us so horribly that we collectively under rate ourselves? What I mean by adaptive recuperation is regaining the gifts we’re born with, not to excel or be hypertrophic, instead to actualize ancestral normality. Hope that makes sense.
          I’ve been around such thinking all my life, sort of a counterculture, and since becoming involved with new science have had those views sharpened. For me, that’s what’s natural. And that sense of natural or Paleo is incredibly counter-cultural. In that regard, please excuse me if I seem to be minimalizing questions – at times I just don’t get why others don’t get it, and that’s for my educational improvement as a communicator.

          warm regards,


  12. Caitlin,
    Just as a matter of interest.
    Dumb-bells got their name from the bell-foundries. The foundry-men used to have spare-time competitions performing feats of curling with cast bells, without the clapper inside. These they referred to as ‘dumb-bells’ as they made no sound of course. The idea caught on and ‘dumb-bells’ became part of the gymnasium equipment. When you think about it, a ‘kettle-bell’ is really a squashed up bell, sans clapper!
    Keep it up. Although I must admit, I just walk to the shops and back again, and to the post office to collect my pension. Other than that I maintain my weight with eating a low carb diet. (Almost nil-carb’) in fact.

    • Halteres in one form or another were known as far back as ancient Greece. “Dumb” or “silent” bells seem to have first been noted in passim as early as 1711.
      Jan Todd, PhD (first woman to break the 500 lb squat barrier with a 545 lift in the late 70s; cofounder along with her husband, Dr Terry Todd, of the world’s largest such collection, the Todd-McLean Physical Culture archives (300,000+ items in 2.5 miles of compact shelving) and the Weider Physical Culture Museum, both at University of Texas, Austin) addressed the subject in her “From Milo to Milo: A History of Dumbbells, Barbells & Indian Clubs”
      In summation, the terms ‘dumb’ and ‘silent’ bell have been used for 400 years, sadly without illustrations for much of that time. Transition form Halteres to dumbbell in vocabulary was not accompanied with drawings, photos, even much in the way of descriptions. It looks as if application of dumbbell to items from forge factories comes about later in the use of the word – and sure makes sense.
      Added to use of bell is that early ones, up into the early 20th century, were not solid cast as, say, today’s hex dumbbells are. The ‘bells’ were hollow cast and came with plugs. Amount of resistance was adjusted by adding or subtracting sand, shot, or other dense material. The Milo Barbell Company manufactured adjustable kettlebells, the bell part screwing together while instead plates of varying diameters filled the kettlebell. My FB photos section has a photo essay on Mike Graham’s Old Texas Barbell Company in Lockhart, TX, including some Milo adjustable kettlebells and other beautiful antiquarian equipment. For Paleo folks, Mike’s gym is a double blessing: next door is Smitty’s BBQ, complete with 100+ year old pits fired up with oak and mesquite.

  13. Ken,
    Yes our ancestors were bigger, fitter and for certain leaner. Because they were on the move most of the time. But they didn’t exercise for the ‘good it would do them’. They might not have had the sensibilities to make that distinction. They exercised because they had to. But when they didn’t need to move about, or had finished their ‘chores’. they conserved energy, by sitting about.They didn’t find the nearest field and go for a ‘jog’! Which is why the larger predators today also lie around so much. Conserving energy means the food you eat ‘goes further’. They don’t think about it. It’s instinctive. And all this jogging, and interval training? years and years of it, together with football, cricket and climbing have shot my knees and hips. That’s my punishment for doing things that were not completely natural. I might be wrong, but the pain I suffer tells me I am probably right.

  14. I ran two half marathons and did extreme cardio for about 8 years. Then I got Hashi’s and had to re-learn everything. Thankfully to paleo I no longer have to workout to keep my weight stable. I work out if I feel like it. If I am tired I just nap. It takes a while to get away from the self flagelation but it is so nice once you do. I am not as lean as some people out there but I just have to love my body and do what I can without stressing my self out. Now I just do a lot of walking, one day of heavy weights and one short kettle bell workout. Thanks for all the great info Chris!

  15. Last year I decided to try long distance running. I had never run more than seven miles in my life. I trained for six months and then successfully ran my first marathon in just over four hours. It was an amazing and rewarding experience. However, there are two weird things I will never forget:

    1) Over the course of the training period, my average blood pressure went up (UP!) from about 130 to 150! A month after the marathon it still had not gone down and I had to go on blood pressure meds.

    2) During the final miles… 22-25… I remember feeling faint, nauseous, and exhausted. Even though I was in the best shape of my life, It was not a “healthy” feeling. I remember wondering to myself: How can this be good for my body?

    These experiences seem to resonate on some level with your article.

  16. I started my on form of interval exercising when I was about 40. However, over the many years since then I’ve seen an evolution in the type of exercise recommended. So today I am now basically doing the ‘Peak 8’ exercise routine three times a week. At my age (94) I don’t expect to run marathons or do any feats of great strengths or endurance. My interest is in reaining supple enough to be able to get up off the floor, keep from falling and in general be productive the rest of the day. (Believe me. your goals change with age.) Fortunately, I still have my original knees and hips. I brag to the octogenarians that I don’t have to take any presciption medications. (Yet!)
    As far as I am concerned I consider exercise as the best way to achieve longevity and good health regardless of the physical problems you’re dealt. My biggest worry is deciding on how intense should these exercise get as I get older (and older.) I have no good qualitative or even quantittive measurement to guide me. I wonder if there are serious rsks that an old man faces when he exercises up to his limit. Perhaps none of you who are still young can appreciate my problem.

    • Hi Frank,

      My husband and I appreciated your post. Yes, we are younger, but not for long and we realize how fast it goes. I wonder, when I am 94 (highly doubtful I’ll make it to that, but let’s just pretend), will I still be trying to keep my cute little body? I am 61, but, trust me, I look damn good. My husband is 55 and he will back me, of course, because if he has a hot wife, he looks better. Oh, don’t think I don’t know you 30 year-olds are splitting a gut over that one, but just wait. Your time will come. My 90 yr old aunt used to tell me that she put olive oil all over her body every day and her skin was still like a baby’s. Fine, if you want to walk around smelling like a salad your whole life. And you’re just going to croak anyway, so WTF? Anyway, the husband looks really good, too, good enough to be hanging out with me (which is nice cuz I don’t want some fat dork following me around). We both do what we like to call “crazy 8’s” and swear by them. I did the slow weight lifting stuff this morning and was admiring by biceps (I’m really full of myself today, but it will pass as soon as I get in the wrong light conditions)). Seriously, Frank, your biggest worry is that the intensity of your exercise may be doing you harm? You’re 94, dude! Come on! Okay, I’m not holding back because I’m sitting here with 2 glasses of Zinfandel doing a taste test. I rarely drink, but it’s my 61st birthday. I started out counting calories this morning and then bagged it and had a whole bunch of extra butter on my rice noodles. I’m 5’3″ and weighed 107 this morning. My husband said, eat anything you want, but still, my mind is calculating the chocolate, the carbs, did I get enough protein? Let’s not miss what’s real, here. Not that I know first hand what’s real. All I know is we all better pay attention. I’m still going to weigh every day, watch my calories and balance of micro and macro nutrients, and experiment with exercise methods and TRY to maybe splurge a little more often. I mean geez, I drove an hour north yesterday to buy 7 pasture raised frozen chickens! (both these wines are good!) We are all trying to do the right thing, so God bless us! (okay, the vino is definitely kicking in) I might regret this post tomorrow, but if Brad and Ken can go back and forth 15 times, why should I be embarrassed? O God, I’m probably going to have at least a little hangover tomorrow because both the taste test glasses are empty so I might be officially drunk, but I challenge anyone to find one typo here!

      Anyway, Frank, back to your “problem” – I know that looks sarcastic and I really don’t mean to be rude, but wouldn’t you rather bite the dust lifting weights or while doing some form of exercise than going to the dr. 4 times a week, having numerous skin cancers removed, losing a leg? This has all been happening to my 90 year old mother for the past 5 years. Forgive me if I sound at all preachy (you know, the wine). My mom says she still feels 25 inside. We have to let go of that. There is something else far more important, but don’t ask me what that is. That’s something we all have to find out for ourselves. Okay, the tipsy old lady is going to lay down now.

      • Your post gave me the biggest laugh of all of the ones I’ve read so far (and I read from the top down). Totally hilarious–esp the part about the 2 guys back and forth 15 times. Really. Anyway, thanks for the brilliant bit of writing–made my evening.
        P.s. no, I didn’t find one typo. As a former proofreader, I’m impressed. 😉

  17. At the moment I am having an incredible exercise experience.

    Suffering from Fibromyalgia for over 25 years (I’m now 63 y/o) I’ve used exercise to alleviate some of the toll the illness has taken on me and to roll back some of the pain and stiffness. Sometimes I can hardly walk and often I am over come with a massive ‘Fibro fog’ that descends on my thinking. So concentration collapses.

    I learnt from experience that some exercise approaches maybe release endorphins and I can harness them as analgesia. So mine has been a constant experiment: walking (at time with trekking poles), kickbiking,aqua aerobics, boxing, kettlebell lifting,paddling, line dancing…. Always the handicap was whether I could actually do these things any one day of the week or whether I’m so stiff, sore and fatigued that I can’t do much at all.

    My journey is logged here: http://kickbike.blogspot.com/search/label/Exercise

    But after taking up Tabata every second day — I think I’m in Wow Land. With an mp3 player in my ear with a suitably nuanced Tabata song — I’m finding that I can do this HIIT stuff for such a short burst of time and intense output when I may not be able to do the other. I would have thought I’d stress myself out and sponsor a relapse of symptoms, or that the scale of the physiological demand would not be within me on any one day.

    But so far it’s all +++.

    I embraced this approach after I leant that — ironically — I can dance when I can’t necessarily walk so well. Long, slow or ‘normal’ exercise isn’t always practicable for me but Tabata-ing and dancing — most times regardless of how I feel so long as it is to music — are.

    I do urban soul line dance and just dance to music at home. After 30 minutes you are sweating big time. But I can dance when I can’t necessarily take the dogs walking.

    The point is that I’m a weather vane to stress: thats’ what pushes my Fibro buttons and sends me to bed. But you cannot live without stress and avoid it. I need stress, but I need it so that I can control its impact and focus it, harvest it to best effect . Stress from exercise decreases the length and depth of my relapses.I can get more ‘bounce’ in my lifestyle and not fall into a chronic heap. Two day separate Tabata seems to be doing just that and I get a endorphin rush that undermines the pain and stiffness.

    • I myself suffer from Chronic Fatigue syndrome, secondary (caused by) Adrenal dysfunction and hormone imbalance, all of which were caused by my overzealous attempt to lose the last 10 lbs of a 120 lb weight loss using HIIT interval training, mostly using Turbofire dvds or using spinning classes to basically kill the fat off. instead it killed me. what happens is high intensity training during the high intervals, you cause Adrenal stress, as your body must spit out tons of cortisol/adrenaline, which, while and after you are doing it feel WONDERFUL and indeed help eliminate pain and inflammation. That’s what cortisol does. HOWEVER, you risk depleting your reserve and/or damaging the adrenal cortex and also wrecking the balance of other hormones, as in order to make all that cortisol and adrenaline your body will STEAL Pregnenolone, from which all other hormones are made (especially if you are menopausal or close to it) then you will suffer greatly, so PLEASE STOP the HIIT, it is too high a price to pay for temporary pain and stiffness relief! use Magnesium, supplements, go gluten free, avoid caffeine, do slow quiet type exercises and forget the rest. Tabata is indeed giving you the rush, for now, but you WILL pay later!

  18. When I want to clear up my mind about how much I should or shouldn’t exercise, I watch the animals on the Nature programmes. I liken that to how our distant ancestors lived.

    Apart from the young, who run about out of sheer exuberance, and just because they can, animals don’t exert themselves unless they are chasing prey, or evading a predator.

    Running for a bus, and running away from an irate wife, provides me with plenty of both!


    • While interesting, it sounds a lot like the fictional construction of early people, one simply not supported by archaeological evidence. Those folks were active much of the time. What came to make us human, not animals, was development of our brains including planning & organizing tasks, being mobile rather than bound to a discrete area, and far more dexterity than other animals. From birth onward survival needs groomed & shaped our genetics, in turn embodied them. Archaeological records demonstrated our ancestors were bigger, faster, stronger than the downgraded pale shadows populating today’s world as humans! As several scientists put it, earlier humans expressed genetic potential in a manner rendering them equivalent to life long athletes of our times. If you’re less than a life long athlete, you’re simply under living your genetic potential. So no worry about over training where the concern should be with under living under expressing genetic potentials. Most will respond in full verve in the voice of the momentum of mediocrity, finding reasons we all know to be excuses in vane attempts to justify membership in the zoo culture of restrained persons.

      • Again Ken, I agree with much of what you say here, but I have trouble following your logic or the conclusions you form from the evidence (or opinions) you pose. I agree that our paleolithic ancestors were bigger, more fit, and had bigger brains. And yes they were active much of the time probably out of necessity of acquiring food. But what portion of the time was it lightly active and what portion was intensely active. How much rest did they have? And don’t you think that their diet could have had as much of an impact on their body and brain development as other things? There is a big difference between the diet of historic man and apes for example – much higher nutrient density. I have heard this was a factor in brain development.

        Btw, what do you mean by this? … (zoo culture of restrained persons) Are you attempting to be poetic here or merely clever?

        • Hi Brad:
          Cultural zoo? Thanks to my buddy Keith Norris, my range of reading in the past year has expanded to many bloggers of the Paleo movement. I honestly can’t tell you who has used and popularized that metaphor. Metaphors or poetics are my love: two of my mentors were mythologist Joseph Campbell and the mentor we shared in common in Kyoto and Sunnyvale. Imagine civilization as a zoo! Since we have six dogs, most of whom came to us for foster care, then a blurred distinction between who adopted who as pack/tribe/family, zoo is real salient to me.

          In recent years I’ve read through hundreds, maybe more research publications, mostly peer reviewed. My office is a mess of binders with important ones either classified or waiting to be so. I’m a generalist for whom the devil in detail is a big pain. With projects going on, I’m not readily available for citing publications or other extensive research reports except on a consulting basis with a retainer for time and materials. Don’t mean to be mean with that comment. At best I can offer salient publications, and otherwise recommend use of Google scholar keywords as Kim Hill benefited me with. Brad Schoenfeld did two popular articles on T-Nation about a year ago, one under the general topic of why bodybuilders and powerlifters don’t look the same. His peer reviewed article The Mechanisms of Hypertrophy is, in my opinion, a must read – likely a precis for his doctoral dissertation.
          For more on the noetic topic, check out 19 podcasts going on each for more than one hour as the 2010 summer Zen Brain conference at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, a gathering of neuroscientists, contemplatives, and others pursuing a science of autonomous consciousness. Please ignore the word ‘zen’.
          Rest times. In intensity or density training, the goal for rest times is to minimize them. EPOC and more results.
          For supplements in such training, beta alanine is a must.

          warm regards


  19. I have been trying to recover from chronic fatigue for 4 years. I had done a lot of cycling before and during that time, competitively, but also recreationally and for transportation. During a very stressful year (stress from school, personal life, physically from exercise and low fat veggie diet), the fatigue started and I’ve been trying to figure out what is an ok amount of stress for me since then. I have a tendency to keep pushing to my edge as soon as I feel well enough to exercise. For a while I was able to do crossfit 2x/week with good results and little fatigue, but I have had 2 debilitating flare ups with the fatigue when I increased to 3-4x/week. My fitness over the last 4 years has steadily decreased as I cycle through feeling better-doing too much- feeling worse and having to do less, and repeating that. If I had rested properly 4 years ago (assuming I had known what was going on, which I didn’t), I could have been over this in a year instead of dragging it out.

    Now I am back to strength training 2x/week (with weights or bodyweight), yoga 1-3x/week, sprinting every 1-3 weeks, and almost daily low intensity exercise- yard work, house work, walks, short hikes, horseback riding. I have slowly given up my ideas of what constitutes proper exercise, because as a former endurance athlete, I thought I needed to be doing a lot. Now I do what feels right- I try not to exhaust myself with any of the activities, the yoga I do at home is more aimed at centering myself than in getting in a great workout or doing a difficult asana, and some days I don’t do much at all and I still need a nap. I am steadily improving my health (sleeping better, fatigue happening less often, digestion improving) and maintaining or improving my fitness. Since I have always been fit, I am not worrying about getting out of shape because it’s relatively easy to maintain a base level of fitness.

    It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve altered the rest of my life to decrease stress to allow better healing. I commit to less activities, I work less, I have to say “no”.

    What I’ve realized- and what Chris points out- is that more exercise will continue to keep me sick and actually decrease my fitness. You can only do what your body can recover from.

    • Sounds very similar to my story. Was super into crossfit 4-5x week and was starting to get to that competitve level. Set some pretty good times and strength gains, then started to not be able to recovery from workouts, period stopped, gained body fat, couldnt sleep. Now I am seeing an endocrinologist because I burned through my hormones, DHEA and progesterone essentially gone and am on provera challenge right now hoping to start prometrium in a couple weeks on advice from my Naturopath. Might be on them for the rest of my life. I havent done a single physical activity in about 5 months, walk thats about it and lost 15lbs, didnt have any to lose in the first place. Digestion is a MESS, constipation. I have really reassesed what is fitness and health and when Im ready, I intend to work out 3x a week, lifting heavy weights and oly lifts because thats what I liked to do best and do some quick sprints. Also am planning on getting a puppy so I can enjoy walking.

      • hi I to am suffering from fibromyalgia, and cortisol problems, I was doing hit 3 times a week, for 30 minutes and then some strength training after that, I had very sore knees, which I have never had doing exercise, I have not lost a pound , I cannot lose weight and the majority of my weight is in my stomach, which leads me to believe cortisol, I guess my question is can I still work out, how do you know when not to, I want to lose 15 pounds any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  20. Very timely article. I have been low carb and have worked out at 6:00 am forever it seems. I have learned within the last year that this has caused pretty severe adreneal fatigue which I’m just starting to get a grip on. It’s hard to workout less when the workouts give you that burst of energy.