How Much Exercise is "Too Much"? (2024)


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Today we’re covering a popular fitness challenge (75 Hard) and what it can tell us about:

  • A historical perspective on exercise and how often humans “exercised” in the past.
  • How the modern world has changed what we consider hard.
  • Six smart tactics to increase your exercise for better and more sustainable health and performance

Let’s roll …

The New York Times recently ran the following story on the 75 Hard program:

How Much Exercise is "Too Much"? (2)

For the unfamiliar, 75 Hard is a 75-day fitness/health program created by Andy Frisella, the CEO of 1st Phorm and host of Real AF podcast. Here how 75 Hard works:

  • For 75 days straight, you must:

    • Exercise twice a day for 45 minutes each session. (Note: A walk counts.)

      • At least one of those exercise sessions must be outside.

    • Pick a diet—any diet—and stick to it.

    • Not drink alcohol.

    • Drink at least a gallon of water a day.

    • Read at least 10 pages of a non-fiction book each day.

    • Take a progress picture every day (you don’t have to post them anywhere).

  • The catch: If you break a rule on any day, you have to start over.

Thousands of people do 75 Hard each year.

The Times took their typical trend story approach to 75 Hard. They explained the what, why, who, etc of 75 Hard and covered some possible upsides and downsides of the program. I thought it was a generally fair story for their audience.

The biggest pushback 75 Hard gets is that it’s too extreme—especially the exercising twice a day part.

For example, the Times story explained:

How Much Exercise is "Too Much"? (3)

Another example: The NY Post warned that the program is extreme and can be dangerous.

Let’s explore that.

I think our reaction to 75 Hard’s exercise requirements say says less about the program and more about modern humans in general—and how the modern, comfortable world has changed us.

Human activity: a historical perspective

In short

The average human in the past did far more physical activity than is required by 75 Hard. They did this every day of their life to survive. It’s like we were all on the “Life Hard” program.

The details

My book The Comfort Crisis reveals how our increasingly comfortable world has changed us—and not always for the best.

One of the most obvious changes is that we’re far less physically active than we were in the past.

Even just a couple hundred years ago, survival took serious physical effort for most of the world.

But this effort wasn’t “exercise.” In fact, we evolved to avoid any unnecessary activity, so we wouldn’t waste precious calories.

This was activity we put in to survive: from hunting and gathering (which all the world did for about 2.5 million years) to, more recently, farming or other manual labor.

Just how active were we? To answer that question, researchers study groups who still live like humans did in the past.

Most of the research is on hunter-gatherer tribes. But scientists also investigate farming communities who haven’t adopted modern technology, like the Amish.

For example, scientists will strap GPS monitors, activity trackers, or heart rate monitors to hunter-gatherers or the Amish as they live daily life. They’ll do doubly-labeled water tests to see how many calories they burn across a day.

Here’s what they find:

  • We used to take at least 20,000 steps and walk 10 miles a day.
  • When we walked, we usually carried items like tools, food, kids, and more.
  • We did what we now classify as “exercise” (based on the intensity of the movement) for about 200 minutes a day.
  • We burned about 40 percent more calories per day than we currently do.
  • We were even active at rest. Researchers note that when hunter-gatherers “rest,” they usually do so in the squat position, which still activates low levels of muscle.
  • All this activity happened outside. Humans lived outside and were always exposed to the elements. Exposure to excess heat and cold causes your body to burn calories as it regulates its temperature.

And by the way, it’s not just the young people who are highly active.

“In hunter-gatherer tribes even the older adults are getting unbelievably high levels of physical activity,” David Raichlen, an anthropologist who conducts hunter-gatherer studies told me. One of his colleagues wrote, “80-year-old grandmothers are still strong and vital.”

“They have no other option (but to stay active), really,” said Raichlen. For most of history, if a person couldn’t sustain activity and contribute to resource allocation, they wouldn’t survive.

Modern activity levels

In short

Humans are much less active now. Much, much less active.

The details

Humans were highly active for all of history. Then the Industrial Revolution happened. We created machines that began doing our physical labor for us.

The result was great overall. We could leave the drudgery of fieldwork and focus on other kinds of work.

For example, here’s a wild stat I always return to:

  • Women in Mexico spent five hours a day hand-grinding corn to make tortillas.
  • Once we mechanized corn grinding and tortilla making, Mexican women got back five hours of their day and could pursue other things.

But! There’s always a but.

These advances had unintended consequences. We engineered a lot of physical effort out of daily life. And because we evolved to avoid extra movement, we didn’t make up the lost effort.


  • The average American now takes anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 steps a day, depending on what study you read.
  • And those numbers are dropping. For example, daily step counts dropped by about 600 a day after COVID-19 lockdowns and haven’t bounced back.
  • Only 24% percent of Americans meet the federal exercise guidelines (which are rather low).
  • We no longer move our joints through a full range of motion, which is one reason why hip, shoulder, and back problems are rampant.

This is an incredibly low amount of activity compared to how active we were in the past.

When researchers run all the numbers, they estimate that our ancestors were at least 14 times more active than us.

Is 75 Hard … hard?

In short

Compared to how we lived in the past, 75 Hard is easy.

Compared to how we live and view exercise today, 75 Hard is hard.

The details

Our ancestors did 75 Hard every day of their life, save for the whole reading and progress pictures thing (and, probably, drinking a gallon of water a day because water wasn’t always easy to find).

Indeed, if a hunter-gatherer or Amish person saw the effort level required by 75 Hard, they might wonder why we’re only putting in about 15% of a day’s worth of work.

Why 75 Hard is now hard

In short

We’re all capable of being incredibly physically active. But we’ve engineered our lives to make that harder to do.

The details

Because we’ve tipped so far from our original activity levels, they now seem out of reach.

But we have to remember that hunter-gatherers and the Amish aren’t unique. They’re ordinary people born into an environment that forces them to be highly active.

We’d be just as active if you or I were born into that same environment.

We’re all capable of that level of activity. Our bodies evolved to take it on.

It’s just that our modern environments—paired with the fact that we evolved to avoid physical activity—have allowed our natural fitness to calcify.

Once we invented exercise, it became a separate and distinct time we use to recoup movement.

The implication was that we have our “normal time,” which is mostly sedentary. And then we have our “exercise time,” which is, say, 30 to 60 minutes where we do something physical.

And the cultural push has been to have that “exercise time” happen not everyday, but a few times a week.

Any exercise is undoubtedly helpful for our health. For example, a massive body of evidence shows that 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week leads to huge health benefits. More would, of course, be better. But 150 minutes is an excellent bare minimum to hit.

Yet that also makes exercising 90 total minutes every day—spaced into two sessions—seem daunting. The founder of 75 Hard compares the program to climbing Mt. Everest.

And it is daunting! Here are two examples of why:

1. We have competing interests

People have busy schedules. We’re used to working nine to five. And we’ve got families and chores and other tasks to attend to outside of our jobs.

75 Hard requires that you upend your morning, lunch, or evening and fit a new-ish habit in. Or, at least, significantly ramp up a current habit.

Two daily 45-minute sessions of ANYTHING out of your normal routine is tough. Meditating, crafting, woodworking, or solving puzzles in two 45 minute sessions a day would be just as much of a pain in the ass.

2. We do too much too soon

The University of Georgia kinesiology professor quoted in the NY Times piece is correct: “The biggest risk for injury is if somebody goes from very little to quite a bit,” he said.

He’s spot on. We covered this at length in our piece on running shoes and what really causes running injuries. People who take on big challenges often do too much too soon, get hurt, and quit exercising altogether.

I’m neither pro 75 Hard nor anti 75 Hard. But I am, generally, in favor of anything that helps people—so if 75 Hard helps you, I’m pro 75 Hard.

I do like that 75 Hard gives no exercise recommendations beyond just “exercise and here’s how often.” I.e., it lets you choose what exercise to do.

That allows you to ease in. If you ease in, you’ll avoid injuries.

That, of course, doesn’t mean people will actually ease in. When people commit to 75 Hard, they get excited and start scheduling grueling workouts lol.

Easing in makes exercising more sustainable. But how do you actually do that?

6 smart tactics to increase your exercise

How Much Exercise is "Too Much"? (2024)


What amount of exercise is too much? ›

The Department of Health and Human Services does not specify an upper limit of exercise at which this condition becomes a risk. As a general rule, women's health specialist Felice Gersh, M.D., said 90 minutes per day is the point when people become susceptible to overtraining syndrome and its associated symptoms.

How much exercise is really enough? ›

While the 2018 physical activity guidelines recommend that adults engage in at least 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate exercise, 75 to 150 minutes each week of vigorous movement or an equivalent combination of both intensities, it turns out that if adults do more than the recommended amount, it can lower their ...

How much exercise do you really need answer? ›

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight, keep off lost weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more. Cutting down on sitting time is important, too.

At what point are you working out too much? ›

Here are some symptoms of too much exercise: Being unable to perform at the same level. Needing longer periods of rest. Feeling tired.

What are signs of over exercising? ›

Signs that you're excessively exercising include feeling fatigued, a decrease in performance, proclivity for injury, changes in appetite, and mood changes.

Is exercising 2 hours a day too much? ›

Researchers found that the amount of exercise you get has a direct dose relationship to your heart health — the more you get, the healthier your heart will be — and they suggest two full hours a day of moderate exercise should be the new goal.

Does walking count as exercise? ›

Walking is a type of cardiovascular physical activity, which increases your heart rate. This improves blood flow and can lower blood pressure. It helps to boost energy levels by releasing certain hormones like endorphins and delivering oxygen throughout the body.

How do I know if my workout is enough? ›

Noticing changes in your body is a good sign that your workout is challenging enough. If your jeans fit looser, you use a smaller hook on your bra or a shirt is easier to button, these are all signs that your body is changing. An increase in strength is also a good indicator you are working hard enough.

How much exercise per day is okay? ›

should do at least an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity, mostly aerobic, physical activity, across the week. should incorporate vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 days a week.

What is the best time of day to exercise? ›

Research on exercise timing and performance is mixed. However, ongoing studies suggest that afternoon or evening exercise may improve athletic performance. One study examined how time of day affects high-intensity exercise performance. The results indicate that performance peaks between 4PM and 8PM.

What is the ideal amount to work out? ›

Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving. Each week adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity, according to the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

What is considered excessive exercise? ›

Over-exercising is when we do more exercise than our body can handle. This can include doing too much exercise or exercising in an unsafe way, or not eating enough food alongside exercising. Over-exercising is different for different people. One person might feel ok doing a certain amount of exercise.

What are the symptoms of over exercising your heart? ›

If exercise puts too much strain on your heart, you may have pain and other symptoms, such as:
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Chest pain.
  • Irregular heartbeat or pulse.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea.
Aug 16, 2022

Is 20 exercises per workout too much? ›

If you're aiming for general fitness with your resistance training, 12–45 total reps of an exercise per workout is sufficient. Doing 26–48 total reps helps build endurance, 36–72 is ideal for building muscle mass, and 24–36 total reps will suffice to maximize strength.

How much exercise is considered overtraining? ›

Unfortunately, there's no concrete answer to that question. For most people, the answer is… less. If you're training six or seven times per week but you're not training for a specific sport, event or competition, chances are you're overtraining.

Is it okay to work out every day? ›

Vigorous cardio every day can sometimes be too much. If you have heart or joint problems, for example, doing intense daily cardio workouts may not be safe or good for your body.” Doing the same cardio workout five to seven days a week may be fine if you: Don't have injuries.

Is there a limit on daily exercise? ›

World Health Organization recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five times a week, or 150 minutes. While there is no harm in pushing one's limits, one needs to be careful about overtraining. “One session will not make or break your body.

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