What really happens to your body when you exercise too much
There's no question that exercise is a good thing, but just it's important to make sure you're exercising enough, it is possible to exercise too much. When you do, a lot of different things happen in your body.
A regular workout routine can help control weight, keep your health in check, improve your mood, boost your energy, help you sleep, and even rev up your love life (major bonus, right?).
But still, it's possible to have too much of anything, even something as fabulous and necessary as exercise.
In order to maintain your general health, most adults should aim to squeeze in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.
It's not easy to keep track of how much you're exercising in a week's time (we've got more important things to keep track of, I know), but aim for about 30 minutes a day, five days a week to keep things in check — more if you're trying to lose weight.
If you're doing high intensity exercises, limit yourself to no more than three times per week.
How much exercise you need (and how much is too much) is different for everyone, but I talked with some trainers and medical professionals to find out what signs will tell you that you may be overdoing it.
Depending on the intensity of your workout, you could be losing as much as one to three quarts of water for every hour you exercise, and according to celebrity fitness trainer Autumn Calabrese, that can get dangerous.
“Dehydration is associated with over-exercising. You sweat a lot when working out a great deal, causing water and electrolytes to leave the body.
Our bodies need water to be replenished to keep functioning at proper levels,” she said.
In order to keep dehydration at bay, drink plenty of water both before and during your exercise, and end your workout early if you start experiencing symptoms dizziness, vomiting, nausea, headaches, and muscle cramps.
If you're pushing yourself at the gym in order to reach certain fitness goals, you may actually be working against yourself. Dr. Brian Grawe, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Cincinnati, says this situation is actually pretty common.
“Some people can actually exercise too much,” he said. “By over-training our bodies, eventually our athletic performance will plateau or even decline.
” These plateaus can effect your fitness levels or weight loss goals, and they happen when your body starts to burn out.
Tyler Spraul, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and head trainer at Exercise.com, agrees.
“When you exercise too much, your body will eventually start to grow weaker and continually break down, instead of recovering and growing stronger as you would expect to happen when following a good training program,” he said.
“Basically, your body is going to find ways to make you take a break.” Shorten your workouts, or maybe just take a break for a few days, to give your body a chance to rest.
Celebrity fitness trainer Autumn Calabrese adds that exercising too much can even cause you to lose the muscles you've already built, saying, “Over-exercise prevents your body from building muscle, leading to lean muscle loss.”
You would think that after a few days of hitting it hard at the gym, you'd fall to sleep the second your head hits the pillow at night.
That's not always the case, according to certified personal trainer Ainslie MacEachran, who says, “Sleep patterns become disrupted because hormonal levels are negatively influenced.
” Basically, that constant state of overload means your body will have a hard time winding down when it's finally to sleep.
All those crazy mood swings may not be hormonal after all. If you've been exercising more than you should, chances are, you're tired — probably mentally and physically. That exhaustion tends to make us cranky, and it can lead to mood changes depression, anger, irritability and anxiety. Cool down your gym routine and your attitude may start to balance out as well.
Having a decreased appetite may sound a good thing, but it's not — especially if your body needs the energy to help recover from exercise. Athletes and those who do high endurance training tend to suffer from appetite suppression for a combined number of reasons.
During short bursts of exercise, the hormone and adrenaline rushes that stave of hunger aren't an issue, but when you put your exercise routine into overdrive, that loss of hunger might stick around more long-term.
Loss of appetite has also been attributed to muscle and tissue damage sustained from intense workouts and your body's reaction to those energies.
Exercising too much doesn't affect only your muscles. It can have an affect on your kidneys, too. “Rhabdomyolysis is a little-known and rarely discussed condition in which the energy supplies in the body are depleted and then, through a series of cellular processes, muscle breakdown occurs and leads to potential kidney damage,” said Phillip J.
Adler, and manager of Spectrum Health Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Programs. “If you continue to damage the muscles to a point that is detrimental and you don't allow them to heal, you have the potential to build up CK levels in your blood that can lead to kidney problems.
So if you frequently over-exercise and push your body beyond recoverable limits, you run the risk of rhabdo.”
Adler said warning signs for rhabdo include darkened urine ( dark soda), muscle pain, weakness, stiffness, or cramping. He explained that the condition is often confused with heat stroke because of its similar symptoms.
He lists CrossFit and similar high-intensity workouts as a good example of exercise that may make you susceptible to rhabdo. “This is intense physical activity that pushes the body to its physical limits on a regular basis.
The activity itself may not be harmful, but what is harmful is not allowing your body to recover because you feel you need to continue to do more. Just dosing limitations on over-the-counter medications, this is a situation where more is not always better.
Some may be helpful, but too much could kill you.”
We've been told over and over again that one of the best ways to have a healthy heart is to exercise regularly. So it's pretty distressing that exercising too much can actually work in the reverse, according to celebrity trainer Jay Cardiello. “You can strain your heart.
It is a muscle and if strained it would weaken, which can lead to heart failure,” he said. One 2011 study proved just that, concluding that intensive training can lead to structural changes and scarring of the heart.
There's no question that exercise is still great for your heart, but don't take it to the extreme.
And there are other ways over-exercising can put your heart at risk. “High levels of intense exercise can be toxic to your heart because exercising for too long and too hard can potentially lead to irregular heartbeats.
The danger of an abnormal heartbeat can lead to serious heart-related complications including blood clots and stroke,” said Dr. Partha Nandi, host of the national syndicated television show Ask Dr. Nandi and health editor at the ABC affiliate in Detroit.
“This applies to those athletes logging many hours of intense training and endurance.”
Missing your period may sound a blessing in disguise, but it may also be a sign that you've been over-exercising. “Women can experience amenorrhea if they over-exercise. This is the loss of their period and is due to extremely low body fat,” said celebrity fitness trainer Autumn Calabrese.
This usually happens because the combination of intense exercise and low body fat cause the body to enter “starvation mode,” where it turns off all functions that are not necessary to survival — including the reproductive system. It also happens because the hormones released during exercise interfere with reproductive hormones, essentially throwing your system whack.
Unfortunately, though the break from your period may be appreciated, it can have longterm repercussions. Since your body is without estrogen while your reproductive system is in shut-down mode, it can leave you open to issues down the road osteoporosis, infertility, and atrophy of the breasts and vagina.
You may be exercising for your health, but too much of it can keep you in the sick ward. “Your immune system weakens, making you more susceptible to infection and illness,” said Cardiello. Moderate exercise may help boost your immune system, but too much can do just the opposite.
So the moral of the story is that it is possible to get to much of a good thing, and exercise is a great example. There's no question that you should still strive to be physically active, but talk to your doctor about what limits you should set, and look out for signs that you might be overdoing it.
Even a Little Exercise Might Make Us Happier
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Small amounts of exercise could have an outsize effect on happiness.
According to a new review of research about good moods and physical activity, people who work out even once a week or for as little as 10 minutes a day tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. And any type of exercise may be helpful.
The idea that moving can affect our moods is not new. Many of us would probably say that we feel less cranky or more relaxed after a jog or visit to the gym.
Science would generally agree with us. A number of past studies have noted that physically active people have much lower risks of developing depression and anxiety than people who rarely move.
But that research centered on the relationships between exercise and psychological problems depression and anxiety. Fewer past studies explored links between physical activity and upbeat emotions, especially in people who already were psychologically healthy, and those studies often looked at a single age group or type of exercise.
On their own, they do not tell us much about the amounts or types of exercise that might best lift our moods, or whether most of us might expect to find greater happiness with regular exercise or only certain groups of people.
So for the new review, in The Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers at the University of Michigan decided to aggregate and analyze multiple past studies of working out and happiness.
They began by combing research databases for relevant studies and wound up with 23 published since 1980.
Most of those were observational, meaning that the scientists simply looked at a group of people, asking them how much they worked out and how happy they were.
A few of the studies were experiments in which people started exercising and researchers measured their happiness before and after.
The number of participants in any one study was often small, but together, they represented more than 500,000 people ranging in age from adolescents to the very old and covering a broad range of ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
And for most of them, the Michigan researchers found, exercise was strongly linked to happiness.
“Every one of the observational studies showed a beneficial relationship between being physically active and being happy,” says Weiyun Chen, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan, who, with her graduate student Zhanjia Zhang, wrote the review.
The type of exercise did not seem to matter. Some happy people walked or jogged. Others practiced yoga-style posing and stretching.
And the amount of exercise needed to influence happiness was slight, Dr. Chen says. In several studies, people who worked out only once or twice a week said they felt much happier than those who never exercised. In other studies, 10 minutes a day of physical activity was linked with buoyant moods.
But more movement generally contributed to greater happiness. If people exercised for at least 30 minutes on most days, which is the standard American and European recommendation for good health, Dr. Chen says, they were about 30 percent more ly to consider themselves happy than people who did not meet the guidelines.
“I think the indications are strong that exercise can contribute to happiness and, while anything helps, a bit more is probably better,” she says.
But because most of the studies in this review were observational, she says, it is not possible yet to establish whether exercise directly causes changes in happiness or if the two just happen to occur together often.
It could be that happy people are more ly to take up exercise and continue with it than people who feel sad.
In that case, exercise would not have helped to make people happy; rather, their happiness would have helped to make them exercisers.
Happiness also is an inherently subjective, squishy concept. The studies analyzed in the review asked people how happy they felt. But one person’s happiness could be another’s relative gloom, making it difficult to generalize about how any of us might react, emotionally, to starting an exercise routine.
And, of course, the review did not delve into how exercise could be influencing happiness.
“There are indications that social factors could mediate the effects of exercise on happiness for some people,” Dr. Chen says. In other words, the social interactions that occur during an exercise class or trip to the gym might help to elevate people’s moods.
Or exercise could more directly change the body, including the brain.
“We know that exercise improves health,” Dr. Chen says, “and feeling healthier might make people feel happier.”
Exercise might also remodel the brain, for example, by prompting the creation of new brain cells or inducing changes in brain chemicals, in ways that contribute to positive emotions.
Dr. Chen hopes that future experiments will explore these issues. But for now, she says, “I think that we can safely say that people who exercise are probably going to be happier than people who don’t.”
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