Can too much exercise be a bad thing?

We all know that exercise is good for us but there becomes a point at which doing too much exercise is counter-productive and can actually lead to more problems than it solves. It’s easy to fall into this trap without noticing – you might just add one extra session in a week and think you’ll get away with it and then start picking up injuries, or you might be training hard for a particular event and end up getting ill and not being able to take part.

This blog post will talk you through some of the problems associated with exercising too much, what to look out for, and crucially, what to do if you think you are exercising too much.

What can happen if you exercise too much?

There are lots of problems associated with over exercising but a few key ones are outlined here.

Weight loss

Exercise can lead to weight loss which is obviously ideal if you need to loose weight (providing you loose this weight safely). However, loosing so much weight you become underweight can lead to problems.

You might feel more tired than normal, or get ill more often due to a weakened immune system. Women may also experience amenorrhea (when your period stops) if they exercise too much. This can lead to problems not only with fertility but also with osteoporosis (where your bones become weak and break more easily).

Reduced performance and increased injuries

After exercising our bodies need time to recover and adapt to the demands we have placed on them. If you are exercising too much this may not be possible. Over time this could lead to you experiencing a reduction in performance, or feeling that workouts are harder than they ‘should be’ as your body struggles to cope with the demands you are placing on it.

You could also start picking up injuries more frequently if you exercise too much. Many injuries can be classed as ‘overuse injuries’, which as the name suggests develop when you exercise more than your body can cope with.

To an extent adequate recovery techniques such as stretching, foam rolling, getting enough sleep, drinking enough water and eating healthily will help your body to recover but only up to a certain point. Ultimately, if you are exercising more than your body can cope with you will experience problems as a result of this.

Exercise addictions

Exercise addictions are associated with doing lots of exercise and are characterised by symptoms such as feeling anxious or guilty if you don’t exercise, exercising when ill or injured and choosing to exercise over other activities such as spending time with family and friends.

Individuals doing endurance sports are more likely to experience exercise addictions than those doing other sports, but this doesn’t mean that those doing non-endurance sports are ‘immune’ to developing an exercise addiction.

Exercise addictions can be linked to increased injury levels due to the amount of time spent exercising. In addition exercise addictions are linked to mental health difficulties such as eating disorders, low mood, low self-esteem and body image concerns.

How to tell if you are exercising too much

Some (but not all) symptoms of exercising too much are:

  • Amenorrhea (a lack of periods in women)
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty focusing on things that aren’t exercise
  • Increased levels of injuries
  • Tiredness
  • Unexpected illness/ a weakened immune system
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Feelings of depression

What to do if you think you are exercising too much

Crucially, you should try to reduce the amount you exercise. This doesn’t mean you should stop exercising all together (although if you are injured a healthcare professional might advise you to stop exercising temporarily while you recover), it just means reducing your exercise levels to a point that your body can cope with. For example you might do one less run or gym session a week, or swap an intense exercise session for a more gentle one. It is generally recommended to have at least one complete rest day a week so that could be something to consider.

You also need to deal with any consequences of exercising too much such as severe weight loss, amenorrhea or injuries. A healthcare professional will be able to support you with this so talking to someone like your GP or a physio (for injuries) would be a good place to start with this.

If reducing your exercise levels feels really difficult and find yourself getting anxious or irritable about this, this could be a sign you have an exercise addiction. If you suspect you have an exercise addiction you may need specialist support to help with this, just as you would with any other addiction. Your GP would be a good place to start with this, and they can also help with any related mental health difficulties you may be experiencing related to this.

Don’t feel ashamed if you have been exercising too much, it is easy to fall into this trap and acknowledging this problem is the first step to overcoming it. I hope this blog post has helped you to recognise when this might be the case and what you can do about it.

Happy (but safe) exercising 🙂

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