How much do you really need?
Exercise is beneficial for your health, so the more you do the better your health will be, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. It’s actually possible to exercise too much. What is over-exercising? What happens to your body when you do it?
To figure out how much exercise is too much, we need to look at what is the recommended amount of exercise that each person should get. All of the major health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services and American Heart Association (AHA), are in agreement regarding the current recommendations. The goal is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. If you want, you can mix it up between the two. Some examples of moderate exercises are brisk walking or swimming and some examples of vigorous exercises are running or aerobic dancing. Remember, during any aerobic activity, you should be able to carry on a conversation at the same time. It’s also key to do strength training at least twice a week for all major muscle groups. The goal of strength training would be to do a single set of each exercise that your muscles are tired after 12 to 15 repetitions. Some strength training examples are weight machines, your own body weight, resistance tubing or resistance paddles in the water. The key is to spread your workouts throughout the week with the ideal getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you don’t have time to set aside 30 minutes all at once, then try to do three 10-minute sessions instead. Remember, some physical activity is better than none. Also, it is essential that you reduce the amount of time you spend sitting because the more time you sit, the more likely you’ll cause your metabolism to function incorrectly. If you are trying to lose weight or achieve certain fitness goals, you might need to workout more than the recommended amount.
While there is a set goal of exercise to reach each week, there is no upper limit to how much exercise you should get. There has been recent research into when exercise transitions from being beneficial to harmful and the findings are very interesting. One of those findings is that over-exercising might undo the results that you’ve worked hard to get and actually lead to health issues. Extreme exercise program, endurance races and repetitive strenuous work outs put a significant demand on your cardiovascular system. When you participate in these types of activities frequently, it causes your heart walls becoming thicker, leaves behind scar tissue, enlarges your arteries and can cause heart rhythm disorders. Moderate to vigorous activity several times a week has been shown to decrease the chances of having a heart attack or stroke; whereas, if you exercise strenuously every day, your chances of having either one increases. In addition to heart problems, excessive exercise can cause another major complication, which is dehydration. It’s possible to lose one to three quarts of water for every hour you exercise, so when you exercise excessively you increase your chances of developing dehydration. Signs of dehydration include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches and muscle cramps. If you experience any of these and are in the middle of your work out then you should end the workout and start replenishing water. In addition to water, your body loses vital electrolytes when you sweat and it is essential to replace these as well. Your kidneys can end up damaged due to dehydration and the breakdown of muscle as you exercise. When you exercise, your energy supplies in your body are depleted and through several processes, your muscles breakdown (rhabdomyolysis). All of this results in waste needing to be filtered from your bloodstream, which is the job of the kidneys. When they have to filter these wastes, the kidneys can end up damaged. Signs of rhabdomyolysis are dark-colored urine (looks like soda), muscle pain, weakness, stiffness or cramping. Over-exercising can suppress your immune system and increase your chances of developing an upper respiratory infection. In men, it can decrease libido. In women, it can cause loss of menstruation, osteoporosis (due to bone mineral lose) and eating disorders. This is known as the “female athlete triad.” For everyone, it raises the risk of overuse injuries, like tendinitis and stress fractures, from repetitive trauma to the affected area.
Overtraining is when we push our bodies to do more than it can recover from. This causes the risk of injury/illness to increase significantly. You are setting yourself up for a burnout when you train multiple hours a day, every day of the week. Burnout is when you feel fatigued, hit a plateau, have chronic pain or develop an injury. Performance plateaus are common when you over train and, in some cases, your performance will actually decline. The best way to prevent burnout is to take rest days. These are a necessary part of any workout routine because of the muscle tissue break down when you exercise. Muscle tissue actually grows and strengthens during the recovery phase with nutrition and rest that you get during it. Rest days also help to decrease your cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Cortisol is raised by either emotional/mental or physical stress. So, if you exercise too frequently, it can lead to your cortisol levels being elevated, which prevents the body from dropping fat and can actually result in weight gain.
Some people become anxious or moody when they don’t get to work out. Others feel like they aren’t in control and can’t cut down. These people are addicted to exercise, which is just like anyone who is addicted to gambling or any other habit. They will interrupt their daily life in order to exercise. Some ways to tell if your relationship with exercise is unhealthy are judging if your day was good or bad based off of how much you exercised, you feel anxious/depressed/guilty if you don’t exercise every day, you exercise no matter what (even if you’re sick or tired), you get sick frequently, you base your self-worth and self-esteem on how much you exercise, you get upset when something interferes with your exercise routine, you arrange/cancel obligations/meetings in order to exercise, you exercise alone because you feel that others slow you down, you feel worse when you finished exercising and you exercise to counteract eating/overeating.
In order to have a healthier relationship with exercise, the first thing you need to do is to get rid of your inflexible schedule where you work out every day. Instead, start taking cues from body as to what you should be doing for exercise and when you should be doing it. The key to doing this is finding an activity that you enjoy and doesn’t leave you feeling beat up at the end of it. Another element is to find what motivates and inspires you. It shouldn’t be to just burn calories, lose weight or change your body, but should be something that is meaningful to you.
Since there is no specific upper limit for exercise, it comes down to each individual person and depends on a variety of factors, such as their age, health history and lifestyle. The key is to have balance in your life by making fitness a part of it, but not the only thing. Remember, if you’re sick, injured or tired, it’s a good idea to take a break from your exercise routine. Exercise is an essential component to living a healthy life, but it’s key to do it in moderation!