Exercise: You Can Overdo It

There is a lot of information available if you are in the market to lose weight, tone up, build muscle, increase cardiovascular capacity and increase your overall health and fitness level. All of this is wonderful and useful information which I highly encourage most people to check out.

However, as with anything else in life, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” Sometimes we get so involved in our exercise regime, that we forget that the body also needs rest in order to get and stay healthy. As beneficial as exercise is, we must also schedule time for the body to “reboot” itself.

So what is a healthy amount of rest and exercise? What is the exercise + rest = health equation?

A healthy amount of exercise is typically four to five days per week for most individuals. The exercise should include a good combination of strength, cardiovascular and flexibility training. Generally, one to one and one-half hours a day is a good amount of time depending upon your exertion level. Monitoring the heart rate is essential to knowing if you are actually benefiting from your intensity level. There are many products available that will help to monitor heart rate and alert you if you are need to push yourself a little bit.

However, it is not uncommon for people to overdo the workout, and it is important to be able to recognize if this is a problem.

There are several ways to know if you are pushing your body too hard in the gym, weight room or as an outdoor recreation enthusiast. The first thing you may notice is the body becomes extremely tired and in need of rest. It seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately, many people read this as feeling lazy or lethargic and begin increasing instead of decreasing the amount of exercise they get.

Another symptom of overdoing it is injury and/or pain in the joints or muscles. If you injure yourself as a result of overexertion, it is always best to rest the body until the injury is completely healed. If you experience pain in a joint or muscle, again the best thing to do is to rest until the pain goes away or you have visited your physician to diagnose the source of the pain. However, again I have seen far too many people think that the best way to improve and get stronger is to “work through the pain.” Pain is your body’s way of telling you it needs attention and rest. Most often than not, working through the pain intensifies the pain and aggravates the injured body part, causing more pain and longer healing time.

Other ways to know that you may be over-exercising are dehydration or constant thirst, extreme loss of body fat, loss of appetite, hair loss, and, for women, skipped menstrual cycles or stoppage of the cycle altogether.

There can be a mental component to over-exercising. A sign is when someone is uncomfortable while resting and relaxing, and constantly maintains a high level of activity. Even when feeling sick, tired or injured, someone with activity disorder will exercise. Missing a workout would cause great distress to the over-exerciser.

Other signs of compulsive exercising include scheduling life around exercise just like people with eating disorders schedule their lives around eating or not eating. A compulsive exerciser would rather exercise than spend time with friends or family, go to social events, and may even miss work and important appointments.

If you recognize any of these signs in yourself or another, it may be an indication that there is a need to slow it down and take an exercise break. The health benefits of doing nothing when one is ill always has been apparent, yet the same principle is not as often applied to those who are not ill.

Idleness is often frowned upon in modern society, yet it is an important part of human mental health. It allows people to gather thoughts, to gain perspective and to relieve stress as well as allow the physical body time to heal. A certain amount of being idle is essential to a happy, fulfilled life.

As you turn towards the holiday season, keep in mind that exercise is a good thing, but don’t make it too much of a good thing.

Carrie White spent over 25 years in the fitness industry as a consultant, club owner, fitness trainer and attorney. She is now a professor, yoga instructor and the director of the LaunchLab at West Virginia University.