How Much Exercise is Too Much? Confronting Overexercise
If you were to do an informal poll among medical professionals, they would likely say that many of us who form the broader public wrestle with not doing enough to be healthy and stay in shape, and we could use a bit more exercise. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re aware of that, and we know that exercise will do us a world of good.
Exercise has many benefits, such as boosting your mood, burning calories, increasing your levels of energy, and overall leaving you feeling better about life and yourself. The benefits of exercise are widely known, though we may not always take advantage and avail ourselves of them.
There is another side to this though, which doesn’t get addressed as often, and that is the dangers of overdoing exercise. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing – too much exercise can have negative results, such as causing exhaustion, injuries, depression, and addiction that overtakes other areas of life. And so, while it’s important to get some exercise to ensure your health, knowing when you’re overdoing it and when to pull back makes sense.
How much exercise is too much?
Every person is unique when it comes to what their body can handle in terms of exercise. Depending on your age, physical history, and other factors, what you can manage in terms of exercise will vary.
Given such a wide variance between people, one of the more important pieces of wisdom regarding overexercising is to pay close attention to your body. When things aren’t going as they should, your body will tell you. With that in mind, below are a few ways you can tell when you’re taxing yourself through exercise a bit too much.
Not enough rest. When you work out, you need to give yourself time for rest and recovery. That way, your body can heal and make the most of the gains made during the workout. If you’re not having enough rest and recovery time after and between your sessions, that’s a good sign you’re overdoing it.
When you put in a good session, you may feel a little tired and sore, but you’ll also feel energized. However, if you’re feeling fatigued between and even during your sessions, that may signal that you’re overdoing it and not giving your body time to recover.
Insomnia. One of the benefits of working out is that it helps with your overall sense of well-being, and you tend to sleep well. Struggling to fall or stay asleep isn’t a problem when you’re getting the right amount of exercise because it promotes sleep, and so insomnia may signal that you’re overdoing it.
When you’re hurting your body. Whether it’s running, cycling, swimming, walking, dancing, lifting weights, or some other form of exercise, feeling a little sore after a good bit of exercise is par for the course. There is a significant difference between that good kind of soreness that shows you’ve worked hard and lingering soreness that doesn’t disappear after a day or two.
Also, you may be overdoing it if you feel sore only on one side of your body, or in one muscle group or joint in your body. If both legs run a marathon, it doesn’t make sense for only one knee to be in pain long after; that indicates you may have done some injury to yourself.
The presence of actual injuries sustained during your workouts may also suggest you’re overdoing it, especially if the injury came about because of the increased intensity of your workout. When you exercise, don’t increase intensity all at once; work up to your goals steadily over time, for example by adjusting and seeing if your body can handle it over two weeks, then increasing it in the third week.
Your body gains fat and you become more susceptible to illness. Taking in the right amount of exercise tends to help us by boosting our metabolism and immune system. However, if you overdo it, the symptoms can show up in that it’ll compromise your immune system, making you more susceptible to things like colds.
Overdoing exercise can also result in a disrupted ability to regulate the stress hormone cortisol, leading to your body holding on to fat. If you find your health deteriorating and your metabolism taking you backward, it may be that you’re overdoing your exercising.
When you lose a good balance. Exercising a lot, whether that means it occupies a large chunk of your time, or it occupies pride of place in your life, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re overdoing it. However, if you begin organizing your life around exercise, you may have a problem. This can manifest in many ways.
Some people become laser-focused, scrupulously measuring their caloric intake, and treating food simply as fuel for the next workout; they don’t enjoy their food as food. In other cases, overdoing it can look like working out when it’s inappropriate, such as when it’s snowing or raining and you insist on going out, or if you miss important life events because you must get your workout in.
You’re irregular and do too much at once. With exercise, slow and steady wins the race. Many people find working out unpleasant because they don’t do it regularly, and when they do it, they want to fit in as much of it in one shot as they can. That can make for an unpleasant and potentially dangerous workout.
If you find yourself dreading your once-in-a-while workout, it may be appropriate to ask yourself why that is. It may be that you’re doing too much all in one go, and if you find yourself in knots trying to fit different types of workouts/activities into one session, you may be overdoing it.
When your performance level drops. As slow and steady wins the race when it comes to exercise, we find that over time we get stronger, more capable, more flexible, and so on. If you’ve been working out consistently for a while, but you find your performance getting worse and not better, you may be overdoing it and not giving your body a chance to recover. Pull back a little, give yourself room to rest, and it will likely lead to a performance boost.
Focusing on one type of workout/movement. When we find something that works for us, we typically stick to it and push it to its limits. This may not be the best idea. A runner can work hard on their running, but if they don’t do proper stretching and flexibility training, their overall gains may be compromised.
Someone who focuses on strength training may do just that, leaving other areas such as flexibility or cardio-fitness languishing. A person who does yoga may be flexible, but their overall strength may need some improvement. If you find that your focus is only on one thing, you might be overdoing it and inadvertently lowering your overall performance. You need to do a mix of things to develop flexibility, strength, endurance, and cardio fitness.
What do I do if I’m overdoing it?
In general, getting the right amount of exercise is good for your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. But if any of the above-mentioned signs of overdoing it sound familiar to you, what can you do about it? As mentioned earlier, the key thing is to pay close attention to your body and heed its cues. If you’re feeling tired or sore, you may need to pull back and create rest and workout days.
When you intensify your workouts, do so in small increments and give your body time to adjust to the change before making further increments in intensity. In general, having days set aside for rest and recovery is a good idea. If you want to move during your rest days, you can still use your time and do active recovery, which may mean stretching or walking. If you only do one type of exercise, consider diversifying it to improve your overall fitness.
Injuries are common during exercise, and sometimes you may feel sore for a few days while your body heals. However, see a medical professional if you’ve injured yourself and it doesn’t seem to be getting better even with rest. Working out boosts your mood, so if you notice that your moods are being altered negatively when you work out, and afterward, talk with a mental health professional so that you can address any potential issues such as depression.
“Workout”, Courtesy of Jonathan Borba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Exercise Group”, Courtesy of Gabin Vallet, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Measured Fork”, Courtesy of Diana Polekhina, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Keep Climbing”, Courtesy of Bruno Nascimento, Unsplash.com, CC0 License