Can too much Exercise be Harmful?


The importance of physical fitness is something that most of us understand. It consists of workouts that elevate heart rate and perspiration. It consists of muscle strength, which is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert force against resistance.  We know that getting enough physical fitness training is linked with reduced heart disease, diabetes, overweight/obesity, and stroke. Additionally, being physically fit is linked with increased longevity and mental health. But what is considered the right amount of physical fitness training? Incorporating appropriate amounts and types of physical fitness training into your weekly regimen is a discipline that requires understanding and practice.


How much should we exercise? 

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following exercise guidelines for Cardiorespiratory Exercise and Resistance Exercise:


Cardiorespiratory Exercise. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. These recommendations can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week). Gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended for best adherence and least injury risk.


Resistance Exercise. Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment, performing two to four sets for each exercise. For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise, and 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance. Use heavier weights with less repetitions and lighter weights with more repetitions. Very light or light intensity is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults starting exercise.Adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.


While guidelines are set forth for how much exercise we should get in a week, it is sometimes unclear at what point too much exercise becomes counterproductive to one’s health. Preparation for intense events, such as some military schools, marathons, ultramarathons, triathlons,etc., can sometimes trigger short-term negative health effects and/or injury due to overtraining.


Some common symptoms that you could be over-training

·         Performance

o   Early Fatigue

o   Increased Heart Rate with less Effort

o   Decreased Strength, Endurance, Speed, and Coordination

o   Decreased Aerobic Capacity

o   Delayed Recovery

·         Physiological

o   Persistent Fatigue

o   On-going Muscle Soreness

o   Loss of Appetite

o   Excessive Weight Loss

o   Excessive Loss of Body Fat

o   Increased Resting Heart Rate

o   Chronic Muscle Soreness

o   Difficulty Sleeping

o   Frequent Colds or infections

·         Psychological

o   Irritation or Anger

o   Depression

o   Difficulty in Concentration

o   Increased Sensitivity to Emotional Stress

o   Loss of Competitive Drive and Enthusiasm


Some common injuries due to overtraining.

Among military personnel, studies have shown the prevalence of certain injuries:

·         Meniscal tears/knee injuries

·         Shoulder dislocations

·         Rotator cuff tears

·         Achilles tendinitis

·         Stress fractures

·         Cervical & lumbar strains


Over-training occurs when the frequency and intensity of training exceeds our body’s ability to rest and recover.  When experiencing heavy training loads, give your body what it needs:

·         Nutrition- Healthy dietary habits each day can greatly enhance your ability to perform at your maximum potential. Sufficient carbohydrate intake helps provide the body energy and aids in muscle recovery.

·         Sleep- It is a vital component for peak physical performance. Getting an appropriate amount of sleep every day can help you recover faster.

·         Hydration- Staying hydrated at all times is critical to good health, energy, recovery and performance.


Take home point

Overtraining can lead to injury and common symptoms of these can be triggers that tell us we may need to modify our routines. Physical training should be focused on quality and quantity. Varied exercise routines incorporating multi-dimensional movements and high intensity exercise are key for a healthy body that is not overextended. The higher the intensity, the greater need for recovery. When intensity increases, we typically need to decrease the frequency in order to ensure our body has adequate amounts of time to recuperate.  Recovery is every bit as important as the training. Early awareness is always important but prevention of overtraining will be key to long-term health. 

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