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I'm in my early 40s, BMI=27, and my primary goal in exercising is to be healthy: to live as long and as ably/comfortably as I can. My secondary goals are to maintain a reasonably good weight (preferably BMI < 25) and physique, and to elevate my mood.

The problem is that I am finding that my workouts have a significant drain on my energy afterward, such that I get much less done in the hours following a workout, and I generally feel achy and slightly unwell. Some of that may be due to factors within my control: meal and hydration timing, good nutrition, good sleep, etc. I'm not perfect on any of these.

But I think that most of the after-effect is simply due to being tired from the workout. What I've considered is that maybe I am overdoing it.

I know the more fit I am, the less this happens (and I posted a similar question abou tthat long ago), but even feeling relatively fit (resting heart rate often under 60), these workouts often really knock me out.

Part of this was inspired by leafing through a book about 80/20 running, and how for improvements in running performance, one should do 4 moderate runs for every 1 hard run.

The question is: How much exercise should I do to fulfill my health goals while minimizing the after-workout brownout?

To give you an idea of my intensity, to see if it is maybe too much, my current workout is this (almost all inclined treadmill), three times a week on Sun, Tue, Thu:

Walk to Gym (1.6 miles) carrying gear (10 lbs), 15 min mile pace.

Inclined treadmill (not holding onto the bar other than 1 min rests), ~55 minutes:

  • 15% grade @ 4.1 mph for up to 22 minutes. (This is pretty fierce, at least for me. When I started, 4 min was my maximum time for it).
  • 15% grade @ 4.1 mph for up to 1 minute, holding onto bar.
  • 15% grade @ 3.5 mph for 5 min
  • 15% grade @ 5.1 mph for 2 to 2.5 min (heart rate gets to 170+ for this!)
  • 15% grade @ 2.0 mph for 2-3 min, holding on as a cool-down
  • 15% grade @ 3.6 mph for 15 min

Flat treadmill (5 min)

  • 5 min run, alternating between 8 min mile and 6:58 min mile.

Preacher bench/machine bicep curls (5-10 min):

  • 35 x 15
  • 40 x 15
  • 45 x 15
  • 50 x 15

Walk back from Gym (1.6 miles) carrying gear (10 lbs), 15 min mile pace.

I have also done other weight lifting but lately I am a little more pressed for time and am just limiting it to arms for now. Lame, I know, but really my focus is cardio and general systemic fitness.

What do you think? Am I overdoing it for my goals? Or should I just accept that three days a week I'm going to feel like the air has been let out of my tires?

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    Check out The 4-Hour Body (I just recommended that in another answer). Tim Ferriss is all about getting the most results while doing the least work. – Jay Oct 28 '14 at 19:49
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I think you might be asking the wrong question. Your stated goal is here:

my primary goal in exercising is to be healthy: to live as long and as ably/comfortably as I can. My secondary goals are to maintain a reasonably good weight (preferably BMI < 25) and physique, and to elevate my mood.

I'd back up a little bit and ask the question: what's the best way for me to achieve that goal in the time I have, which is two hours three days a week. The walk back and forth is terrific, but the aerobic work you're doing really isn't the best thing for your goals.

You currently have a routine, but you need a program. It might seem like a distinction without a difference, but a program is very different from what you're doing now. Properly designed programs:

  • Are designed by professional coaches.
  • Have tens of thousands of successful people backing them up.
  • Are designed to give you the most results possible in the shortest amount of time.
  • Will prevent over training.

A routine is some random collection of various activities one performs that doesn't have any testable results or real theory behind it. Lots of people have routines, effective people have programs.

Regarding your BMI, grams come off at the gym and pounds come off in the kitchen. So regarding your bodyfat, you need to focus on the nutritional component. And strength training has been shown to generally have a more profound effect on weight loss than aerobic activity anyway.

Regarding your longevity, there is a lot of evidence in favor of free-weight strength training when it comes to bone density, balance, connective tissue toughness, and hormonal balance. Even neural pathways get better defined.

I would take a full overhaul of your fitness activities and give something like Starting Strength a spin. Coupled with good nutrition, I don't think anyone can argue that there's a more balanced way to achieve overall physical fitness for a novice.

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  • If you can cite evidence for free weight training and actual longevity, that would be great. I based my "routine" on some really cursory looks at a paper that showed high MET activities in men was correlated with lower all cause mortality (see ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19454641), and what I do gets up to I think 10-12 METs at times. The treadmill stuff I do is no joke--try it and see. – Chelonian Nov 6 '14 at 4:17
  • While I totally agree with your answer, I strongly contend the first two arguments about properly designed programs. I guess being designed by someone with coaching experience could be a requirement, but I don't see the reason why that has to be in a professional capacity. And 'Have tens of thousands of successful people backing them up' is just ridiculous. This means that any tailor made program cannot be 'properly designed' by your definition. – Dennis Haarbrink Aug 7 '17 at 6:14
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The amount of exercise that hits the Goldilocks Window is different for different people, or even the same person at different times.

If an hour of inclined treadmill walking plus a 5-minute run plus a bit of bicep work is leaving you drained then either it's too much work for your capabilities right now or you're not eating and recovering well enough to handle that kind of work right now.

Better Programming

If your primary goal is

to live as long and as ably/comfortably as I can

and your secondary goals are

to maintain a reasonably good weight (preferably BMI < 25) and physique, and to elevate my mood

then you're doing way, way less than you should. Living well is a big goal. Huge. I'd say it requires close to full-time investment in strength, mobility, and cardio. Right now you're doing just about zero strength training, a lot of one form of steady-state cardio but not much else, and a smidge of vanity work. That doesn't comport with your stated goals.

Strength is important for long-term health, since it is a strong predictor of all-cause mortality (one, two, three, four, five) and keeps you able to do a variety of tasks yourself. It works together with flexibility and mobility, which have obvious quality-of-life benefits with regards to daily tasks. Cardiorespiratory fitness is of course important as well.

To meet your goals, I'd do three or four strength workouts a week, plus as much cardio as you feel like doing. The cardio would not be unimodal but would vary between long steady-state work like your incline treadmilling and short, higher-intensity work, perhaps with intervals but definitely with different tools (swimming, sprinting with full rests in between, dumbbell swings, et cetera). It is important to vary the conditioning work so that you don't get too good any any one activity and thereby decrease the cardio benefits of it.

Finally, don't base your workout goals on BMI. It's a terrible metric. Be honest and stick with visual goals.

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  • Thanks, but I guess my question is more about whether the amount I am doing is "above and beyond" what is necessary to fulfill my health goals. In other words, statistically speaking, can I cut back and still be hitting some rough standard for my goals? I mean, if I told you my exercise "regimen" was to sit in a chair, stand up, sit down one more time, once a month, surely that would be insufficient for 40something male fitness. So, what's enough--and have I passed it? – Chelonian Oct 29 '14 at 0:05
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    In Dave's defense, your goals weren't stated quite that clearly in your question. "Living long and healthy" is pretty broad. Running and bicep curls is certainly better than nothing, but it's a mile from optimized. – Eric Oct 29 '14 at 1:46
  • Hmm, "way, way less than [I] should" seems like an overstatement. I'm curious how you'd find doing 15% incline at 4.1 mph for 24 minutes without holding the bar. I'd also prefer more evidence based advice, though I didn't ask for that in my question and should probably edit it. I just don't see the value of 3-4 strength (and I know what you mean by that) workouts each week, unless there would be some evidence to convince me otherwise. Thanks. Not trying to be difficult, just challenging it. I appreciate your answer. – Chelonian Nov 6 '14 at 4:11
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    The fact that a workout is hard, which I do not dispute, does not equate with it being useful. The question is, what does 4.1mph@15% incline for 24 minutes do for you that's going to keep you living ably and comfortably? What would squatting and deadlifting do? Anyway, citations added. Cardio is not the only kind of fitness for health; strength is quite helpful for remaining healthy and able. – Dave Liepmann Nov 6 '14 at 14:10
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Primary goal in exercising is to be healthy: to live as long and as ably/comfortably as I can.

Right, well in terms of doing cardio, and your 3 mile walk to the gym you're on the right path. If you're too tired during or after maybe consider some supplements etc, I personally take caffeine pills for the extra boost for a 2 hour weightlifting session if I feel at all tired before I go to the gym.

Secondary goals are to maintain a reasonably good weight (preferably BMI < 25) and physique, and to elevate my mood.

Right, most important thing is going to be your calorie consumption. Doesn't matter how much time you spend in the gym if you're stuffing your face every second you're not in the gym.

If you're going to do weightlifting to gain muscle, then you don't want to just to bicep curls, otherwise you end up with big biceps and the rest of your muscles remaining small which is going to look very strange.

If you want to get bigger then you need to do some kind of full body weightlifting program, if you just want to lose weight then keeping track of what you eat and doing cardiovascular exercise 3 times a week is a great way to achieve that.

To answer the question in your title

There really isn't an answer for that, it depends on what exercises you're doing and what you are trying to achieve.

You say you want to elevate your mood, well if you're absolutely worn out after every workout and you feel like crap, you're not elevating your mood are you.

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