Most of the time, people talk about how they need to exercise more. For a large portion of the American population, the minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week is a struggle. And this struggle is leading to a bunch of health issues that are plaguing many, both old and young. Think diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and overall life expectancy. But what about the other way around? What about the portion of the population who over exercise, who may think that their intense regimen is doing them good when really it is harming them? While this is still a fairly new topic of research, there is evidence that over-exercise can have some dangerous side effects. This doesn’t mean that the triathletes and Ultra runners are also face an early death. It just means that we all need to listen to our bodies when it comes to figuring out the right fitness regimen for ourselves. You don’t need to be training for an Ironman to consider yourself physically fit and to be happy.
Some Symptoms of Over Exercising
- Physical weakness, tiredness, and headaches: Pushing through the burn and pushing through the pain are two very different things. When you put your body through too much strenuous physical activity, your muscles, joints, and organs will let you know. While muscle soreness is a good thing and indicates that you have sufficiently worked your body and are getting stronger, acute soreness that travels into your joints is actually a detriment. This means that you have either already injured yourself or are on the verge of injury.
- Sickness: Most people who are physically fit and make a habit of exercising routinely, especially outside, find themselves healthier and less susceptible to sickness. This changes when you over-exert yourself physically and mentally. When too tired, your body’s immune system goes down and you are more affected by outside attacks.
- Depression: Most of us are familiar with Elle Wood’s words of wisdom, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” And for the most part this is true. Endorphins give you that great feeling of happiness and elation after a workout, but over-exercise can actually create the complete opposite. Rather than a positive effect, your workout regime can make you feel depressed and anxious. It can even lead into an addiction to exercise which can be best compared to other unhealthy addictions such as eating disorders.
Fear not, there are cures!
- Rest: Rest will cure many things. Think about it, when you are sick, what does your doctor and your family tell you to do? They tell you to sleep. Sleeping and resting is the time when our bodies heal. If you are experiencing pain, rest until your physical symptoms are gone, even if that takes a few days.
- Therapy: Some of these symptoms can be psychological. Similarly to many eating disorders, exercise addiction can have strong ties to unhealthy coping mechanisms and an obsession with control. Therapy helps to talk through specific triggers and to break down negative habits to make way for a healthier and happier life. Honestly, therapy can do wonders.
- Steady increase in intensity: As a former collegiate athlete, I was used to holding myself to a high standard of when it came to my fitness.Unfortunately, my life now doesn’t revolve around my ability to sprint up and down a field an entire 70-minute field hockey field, and my fitness expectations have had to change. I have steadily work my way to a healthy intensity that keeps my body in shape but also gives me energy for my other responsibilities. When exercising, don’t make big jumps to bigger weights and intensity even if you were able to train at those levels before. Your body may not be ready for it quite yet. Instead, focus on a more steady increase toward your desired intensity. Remember, it’s all in the journey.