By Dr Michael MacDonald
We all know that exercising too little, or not at all, can lead to several serious health issues. In the Covid-19 age, many of us are dusting off the treadmill, buying weights online, and breaking out the old running shoes. While exercising is a good practice that can improve your overall health, strengthen your body, and help ease mental health, there is such a thing as too much exercise. So how can you tell if your workout routine is too harsh?
Most doctors’ general recommendation is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise. This amount of time is the minimum commitment you should put into your workout routine. More time is perfectly acceptable. With moderate exercise, you will be sweating a little, and breathing will be slightly more challenging than usual, but you will be able to hold a conversation over the phone or with a socially distanced friend. With intense exercise, you will likely be sweating quite a lot, and getting out more than a few words at a time will be difficult.
So how do you know if you’re working out too much? There are some key indicators, and you should pay special attention to the clues your body is giving. If you’re new to working out, or it has been a while since you strapped on your running shoes, make sure to take things very slowly. Going from no physical activity to running a 5K will take your body some time to build up stamina. It can be frustrating when you know you’re capable of more than you’re currently doing, but remember the old saying, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Above all, keep an eye out for any of these warning signs that your exercise regime is too hard.
While it’s perfectly acceptable to be a little sore the day after a workout, if you feel like you can’t move in the morning, you were working out too hard the day before. Muscle soreness shouldn’t cause more than a mild inconvenience that improves with an over-the-counter pain reliever. Additionally, it should get better as the day goes on and disappear within a day or two. If you are so sore that the pain lasts up to a week, you will need to tone down your workout.
It’s normal to have a little discomfort in your joints when you first start a new routine. It’s a sign that your body is adjusting to the new ways you are using it. However, if the pain is anything more than very slight, you should immediately take rest days until the pain is gone, then adjust the intensity and type of workout before starting up again. Continuing to practice intense activities that cause joint pain can lead to lasting damage that can impact your mobility and possibly lead to painful and expensive surgeries.
If you are a person that has regular periods, missing them is a possible sign of exercising too much. When your body is under too much physical stress, it shuts down functions deemed non-essential to divert energy to the systems that keep you alive, like major organs like the heart, lungs, and brain, and systems such as respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems. You don’t need your reproductive system to survive, so the body shuts it down. While you may be thinking, “Yay! No periods!” it can cause several health issues later in life, such as decreased bone density (a risk factor for osteoporosis), trouble sleeping, and mood swings.
While making time for exercise is important, if you’re blowing off work, ignoring family and friends, or neglecting daily tasks, you may have an addiction. Exercise addiction is a real thing and a significant threat to your body, mental health, and relationships. If you’re consistently late for work because you just have to fit in that extra mile, if you’re canceling plans to spend more time at the gym, or the majority of your time is focused on exercise, you may have a problem. Addiction of any kind is a complicated situation to handle on your own, so if you suspect you have an issue or others have expressed concern, please seek help from a medical professional.
Most people have the opposite problem, but exercising too much can also be a big deal. It puts stress on your body, which can cause lasting, long-term damage. We all want to be as healthy as possible, so make sure you listen to the signals your body is sending for any warning signs. Keep in mind that there is always the possibility for too much of a good thing.