Nobody doubts the importance of exercise for a healthy, vibrant life. It’s undeniable. Both moderate and intense workouts offer countless health benefits, including lowered blood sugar levels, decreased risk of heart disease, improved sleep quality, and more. It can even improve your mental health by reducing stress levels and boosting your brainpower.
But too much of a good thing is a bad thing. And that includes exercise.
In fact, one of CrossFit’s co-founders, Greg Glassman, famously told the New York Times back in 2005 that CrossFit “can kill you. I’ve always been completely honest about that.” And before you say, “But that’s just CrossFit!” you should know that it’s not just CrossFit.
Spending too much time at the gym, whether doing CrossFit, cardio, or strength training, can hurt your efforts at pursuing a healthier life.
How Much Exercise Does a Person Really Need?
While everyone knows the importance of exercise, fewer people have a clear picture of the amount of physical activity they need.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, adults should exercise at a moderate level for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week (150 minutes total/week), or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Ideally, this should be spread out over several days rather than done all at once.
Besides aerobic activity, DHHS recommends strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice per week. And in their recommendations, they note that you can enjoy greater benefits the more you exercise, up to 300 minutes per week.
Curiously, they don’t mention what happens if you keep going…
The Dangers of Over Exercise
We seldom hear about the dangers associated with exercising too much because few Americans fall into that category. Recent surveys have revealed that a measly 33% of American adults get the recommended amount of physical activity each week.
But out of those Americans committed to staying fit, there’s a sizable number who move into more extreme territory. About 1 million people in the United States are clinically addicted to exercise. And they may not realize the risk they’re taking with their body’s future.
So, what are some dangers associated with over-exercising?
1. Too Much Exercise Will Make You Pack on the Pounds
It seems like a no-brainer. The more you exercise, the more weight you lose; calories in, calories out. But it’s not quite so simple. Our bodies are complicated machines, filled with dozens of integrated systems, all working together to keep us healthy.
When you spend too much time at the gym, your cortisol levels can remain elevated, eventually leading to fatigue and even weight gain. And it’s not just muscle you’re gaining. Cortisol, a hormone released when your body is under stress, will cause your midsection to put on extra weight by increasing insulin resistance.
Exercising too much or too often can leave you weighing more than if you hadn’t exercised at all.
2. Too Much Exercise Can Damage Your Heart & Cardiovascular System
Many studies have found a correlation between intense aerobic exercise regimens and heart problems.
One study of endurance runners found that they suffered from heart rhythm disorders more often than non-runners and that their hearts were more likely to have thickened walls, scar tissue, and enlarged arteries. Another study uncovered that women who engaged in vigorous exercise every day were more likely to suffer from heart attacks and strokes than those who did so more modestly.
Although nothing can be said definitively, there is a growing body of evidence that reveals over exercise could have severe repercussions for your heart health.
3. Too Much Exercise Will Destroy Your Sex-Drive
A study by UNC Chapel Hill in 2017 found that men who regularly engaged in high-intensity workouts had a lower sex drive than those who were more moderate in their exercise schedules.
4. Too Much Aerobic Exercise Can Increase Your Risk of Death!
Consider the recent study that revealed a startling difference between runners who make it between .15 and 15 miles per week compared with those who regularly exceed 25 miles. The more moderate group enjoys a 19% reduced mortality rate. This is excellent news and should encourage anyone who’s thinking about starting a running habit.
But there’s more to the story. The more extreme runners who made it over 25 miles per week had the same death risk as those who didn’t exercise at all. The benefits of running are tremendous, but eventually, those benefits wear thin and even disappear entirely.
How Much Exercise is Too Much?
It’s clear: the stress that over-exercising puts on the body can keep you from enjoying the benefits associated with working out–and even lead to health problems. Recent research has discovered that serious complications can result from exercising too much or engaging in extreme events like marathons or Ironman distance triathlons.
So, where’s the cut-off? At what point does a person go from exercising enough to too much? And how do we know whether we’ve crossed that line?
These are essential questions that are being actively pursued by researchers in the field. As time passes, there’s no doubt that we’ll have a better idea of where this line is. For now, the most we can say is that the point at which we’ve moved into an unhealthy exercise regimen will largely depend on our sex, age, and current fitness level.
Some Parting Exercise Advice
As a result, you need to be aware of just how much exercise you need (and can take) before you hit the gym every day. To enjoy the tremendous benefits that consistent exercise offers, without the drawbacks of over-exercising, keep the following in mind:
- If you haven’t gone for a run (or even a walk) in the past year, start slow. You don’t have to make up for lost time. Trying to do so will cause more problems than it will fix. So, take it easy and build up to a more intense workout over several weeks.
- Begin by following the guidelines laid out by the DHHS: 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, along with strength training twice per week. Once you can comfortably do that, begin working up to a higher intensity as you feel comfortable.
- If you visit the gym more than once per day or find that your exercise regimen is taking over your life, you may want to consider seeing someone about exercise addiction.