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Aug 17

Overexercising: Signs, Complications, and Outlook – Everyday Health

We all know that moving our bodies is good for us. Exercise benefits heart health, bone health, weight control, mood and emotional health, and much more.

And while not getting enough exercise is the bigger issue for most Americans (a group of cardiologists wrote a review on the topic in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in January 2016), exercising too much can be a problem, too.

RELATED: The Health Benefits of Exercise

Overexercising is counterproductive and can actually be dangerous to your health, says David Miranda, a physical therapist and owner of Excel Rehabilitation Services in Gonzales, Louisiana.

But how do you know if you are pushing too far too fast? Heres what Miranda and other fitness pros say.

Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week, in addition to strength training.

But its important to point out that the guidelines also mention that theres no specific upper limit when exercise benefits cease to exist. And the guidelines dont specify if theres an upper limit when larger amounts of exercise are unsafe.

RELATED: How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?

And many endurance and professional athletes safely perform many more hours of physical activity per week than the guidelines set as the minimum.

There is controversy, however, among sport medicine researchers if there is even a point at which too much exercise ever becomes harmful in ultra-endurance athletes, according to areview published in 2019 in the journal AIMS Public Health. Other research suggests though that there is no upper limit for healthy adults in terms of how much aerobic activity benefits the heart.

So when is too much exercise too much?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are primarily two main ways you can overdo it on exercise:

Overtraining is when youre pushing yourself too hard too quickly. Factors such as the intensity, duration, and length of workouts need to be eased into and increased gradually, says Mark Slabaugh, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon with orthopedics and joint replacement at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Overtraining usually results from not giving yourself enough rest (or full rest days off from exercise completely) in between workouts, not getting adequate nutrition for the exercise youre doing, not getting enough sleep, exercising too intensely, or not cutting back on workouts when you are sick or faced with too many other stressors.

Nutrition is often a huge factor in overexercising, Dr. Slabaugh adds. Athletes of every level need to get the nutrition they need to sustain their workouts, even if an exercise program is part of a weight loss plan. For those wishing to lose weight and workout, a gradual reduction in calories over time all the while maintaining key nutrients is the key to success, Slabaugh says.

RELATED: What to Eat Before and After Your Workout

Overtraining can also result from trying to ramp up a training program too quickly. A beginner weightlifter, for example, should not be doing multiple types of bench presses five to seven days a week, says Oluseun Olufade, MD, an assistant professor of orthopedics at Emory School of Medicine, explains. It will increase risk of shoulder injury.

Compulsive exercise, according to the NIH, is when exercise no longer feels like an activity you choose to do, but becomes an activity you feel you have to do (or it becomes addictive). People who are compulsive exercisers might notice that exercise is no longer enjoyable or that they feel guilty or anxious if they dont exercise.

Overexercising is typically encountered in people who go from not exercising at all to trying too aggressively to get into shape or lose weight, Slabaugh says. It not necessarily about the total quantity of exercise youre doing its upping the intensity too quickly.

From overtraining to compulsive exercising, there are numerous ways you can overdo it. Individuals who overexercise tend to experience similar signs and symptoms, which include:

RELATED: Post-Workout Muscle Recovery: How to Let Your Muscles Heal and Why

Overexercising is risky because it can lead to numerous short- and long-term health problems.

Overexercising can have significant effects on mood and energy levels. According to NASM, the fatigue and low energy associated with overexercising can cause irritation, anger, problems with sleep, problems with school or work, and lack of enjoyment of your typical interests and hobbies.

One of the biggest red flags that you are doing too much, too fast is an elevated resting heart rate, loss of or change in appetite,or moodchanges, Leada Malek, a doctor of physical therapy in San Francisco, explains. Sleep disturbances can also occur.

You can also increase risk of injuries, like stress fractures, muscle strains, runners knee, joint pain, tendinitis, and bursitis, according to Northwestern Medicine.

When the body doesnt have time to heal, athletes risk getting overuse injuries, like tendonitis, fatigue, or tendon tears, Slabaugh explains. It increases risk of future injuries, too, he says.

RELATED: The Relationship Between Fitness and Mood

Over the longer term, overexercising can cause damage to the kidneys and heart, Dr. Olufade adds.

Its important to consider that there are other serious consequences of overexercising, such as rhabdomyolysis which can occur when you work out too much, Olufade explains and that's in terms of either time or intensity. Rhabdomyolysis is a serious (and potentially fatal) medical condition, whereby damaged muscle tissue releases proteins and electrolytes into the blood, which can damage the heart and kidneys, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).If you think you may have rhabdomyolysis after intense exercise, you should seek medical care urgently.

Women may experience a loss of menstruation or early onset osteoporosis with consistent overexercising. Men, on the other hand, may experience a decreased sex drive as a result.

And over time, overexercising can compromise the immune system, too, according to the NIH particularly when it comes to long-term endurance exercise, like marathon running or intense gym training.

And there is evidence that over time overexercising can contribute to or exacerbate mental health conditions, such as depression, OCD, or anxiety, according to a study published in December 2015in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

While overexercising can be problematic, the good news is that you can reverse the effects of overexercising. The first thing you can (and should) do is to rest, Slabaugh says.

Take one to two weeks off training completely, which may be long enough for mood, energy levels, and motivation to return to typical levels for you, according to the NIH. If youre still experiencing symptoms of overtraining after taking that much time off, its a good idea to check in with your doctor to see if you need to take more time off or if theres any underlying problem that needs to be addressed.

After youve taken this time off and as you return to training, make sure youre taking steps to not jump right back into an overexercising routine. Youll want to focus on:

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Overexercising: Signs, Complications, and Outlook - Everyday Health

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