How Much Is Too Much Exercise? - Virtua Article

How Much Is Too Much Exercise?

By Trina Lisko, DO, Virtua Sports Medicine Physician 

Everyone knows that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. However, too much exercise can have serious physical and emotional consequences, including increased risk of injury, exhaustion, burnout and depression. 

How do you know how much exercise is too much? 

Experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. These guidelines are generally sufficient to provide health benefits that include reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

While the guidelines are clear for the recommended minimum amount of exercise, less is understood about how much exercise is too much. Many adults exercise more than these guidelines suggest and reap rewards that include greater endurance, increased weight loss, improved strength and greater flexibility.

But, recent research indicates that too much exercise may do more harm than good. This is especially true if you don’t allow time between workouts for your body to recover, and you miss signs that you’re pushing yourself too hard.

What are the signs of overexercising?

The symptoms of overexercise can be physical, mental or both and may include:

  • Ongoing fatigue or exhaustion
  • Prolonged tendon, joint or muscle pain
  • Depressed immune system
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Adults who participate in high-performance sports such as marathon running and bodybuilding may reach a point when their performance plateaus due to over-training. That’s because over-training can actually result in reduced strength, lower endurance and decreased bone density.

Why do people overexercise? 

There are many reasons why people overexercise, including: 

  • A need to relieve stress
  • Compensation for emotional issues such as depression or loneliness
  • Training for a specific event such as an ultra-marathon or an endurance event
  • Specialization in a single sport
  • Jumping into a new exercise program too quickly 

What is exercise addiction? 

In some cases, overexercising results from an exercise addiction. Exercise addiction can lead to serious injury and lasting physical harm. However, just because someone exercises a lot doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is addicted. 

People addicted to exercise typically plan their entire lives around exercise and allow it to get in the way of work, school or family commitments. Exercise addicts also may refuse to rest or scale back their exercise program even when they’re injured, exhausted or sick. 

How to prevent overexercising 

The first step in preventing overexercise is being able to recognize the difference between healthy exercising and over-training. If you show physical or emotional signs of overexercising, consider an appointment with a sports medicine physician to discuss your symptoms. 

You also can prevent overexercising by: 

  • Alternating between strength training and cardiovascular activity to allow your body to recover between workouts.
  • Taking it slowly when you start a new exercise program, and then building up to more intense, longer exercise sessions over time.
  • Making sure you have a healthy motivation for exercising, such as improving your cardiovascular fitness, safely losing weight or feeling energized. Allowing exercise to define your self-worth and self-esteem is a sign of exercise addiction. 

Getting help for overexercising 

Although most physical injuries can be treated with rest, orthopedic care and physical therapy, the psychological and emotional effects of overt-raining also can be challenging. That’s why Virtua’s sports medicine group takes a team approach to caring for the physical, psychological and emotional effects of over-training. 

To consult with a Virtua sports medicine physician, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3. 

Updated April 11, 2017

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Virtua’s Sports Injury Hotline

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