It is common knowledge that exercise is one of the healthiest forms of self-care that we can indulge in. Most of us know that we should do more of it. But how much is too much and is too much really a bad thing?
Strength training helps to build muscle and cardiovascular exercise helps to keep your heart healthy. But, if you do too much of either of these, a normally healthy habit can begin to break the body down and, inversely, cause you to be weak and overly stressed.
Unless you are specifically training for a competition and your nutrition and lifestyle is set up to support the extra exercise intensity that your body is receiving, you can actually begin to break down your lean muscle tissue and cause other health concerns. Nutrition, lifestyle changes, supplementation, and other habits need to alter in order for extra exercise to not cause as much damage — but, most of us do not change other areas of our lives!
When our bodies can no longer take the over-exercising, this is when overtraining typically creeps in. Overtraining can signal the body to start burning muscle for fuel and store more fat, resulting in some weight gain.
A few examples of how overtraining shows up —
- Persistent muscle soreness
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Increased incidence of injuries
- Loss of motivation
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle loss
- Increased weakness
Probably not what you are hoping for with your exercise plan!
What exactly happens with over-exercising?
Over-exercising places excessive stress on the body.
And, with this excessive stress, your hormone levels begin to change — especially testosterone and cortisol (yes, women have testosterone too!).
In regards to exercise, testosterone is important to help build lean muscle, increase bone density, and keep your heart and blood healthy. Having healthy, balanced, levels of testosterone are super important for gaining the results you want in your workouts.
But, when excessive stress is placed on the body, cortisol levels increase and steal from your testosterone, throwing off your healthy hormone ratios.
When the body’s delicate hormone balance is upset, it begins to signal to the body to burn muscle instead of fat. As a result, you may notice that the lifting of your usual amount of weights, running your usual distances, and performing the same type of exercises may be much more difficult than easy.
If cortisol levels rise too high and stay elevated for too long, the adrenal glands may stop working properly and as cortisol levels drop below normal, weight gain occurs.
Your body has an amazing capacity to adapt, which is what makes your body so resilient. But, if you keep demanding TOO MUCH from your body, without the necessary rest and recovery, it will start to compromise and compensate in an effort to keep functioning. Your stubborn body fat —especially belly fat — is just one of the ways in which your body compensates when exposed to too much stressors.
What should you do?
There really isn’t just one simple solution to over-exercising. It would be best to start looking at your daily life!
How much stress do you have at work, at home, in your personal life?
You may be quite surprised to find out how much stress you unknowingly deal with on a daily basis. When you can honestly say how much “daily stress” you are experiencing, then you can step back and look at your exercise regimen.
What kind of exercises are you doing? What kind of exercises do you need to do to support your body?
If your “daily stress” is high, then it might be counterintuitive to hop on the elliptical trainer for an hour. It is common that people who lead a more stressful lifestyle tend to gravitate towards, long mind-numbing cardio as a way to escape from it all. Perhaps, trying a yoga class or stretching class may be more stress-relieving and gentle on your already stressed body.
If this sounds like you and you believe you are over-exercising, here are some places you could begin —
- It is totally fine to use exercise to relieve stress! Actually, it is healthy. But, it is not so good to have it as the only form of stress relief. Perform moderate amounts of exercise and save some time to do daily stress relieving practices, such as meditation, visualization, deep breathing, and journaling.
- Put a halt on your long cardio sessions! If you’re doing long cardio workouts, you’re only adding to the problem. Long cardio eats away at your lean muscle mass which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories. And it dramatically increases your appetite making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking and over eating. Instead of long cardio, try doing short, high intensity workouts. These workouts are much more effective at promoting fat burning hormones that target your stubborn fat.
- Lift heavier weights at lower repetitions instead of lower weights for higher repetitions. Lifting heavier weights has been linked to increasing testosterone levels, therefore, helping to keep the hormone balance more, well, balanced. It will also help to increase lean muscle mass and increase your overall metabolism.
- Make sure that you are getting adequate rest. Recovery and rest are often times more important than exercising. If you’re feeling sluggish or drained of energy you can do an active recovery instead like an easy walk, hike, leisurely bike ride or if you’re really tired, take the day off. Remember, it’s during periods of rest that your body does most of the fat burning, so don’t short change yourself. Proper rest and recovery means you’re enabling your body to burn more fat
- Eat a healthy diet because when you are feeding your body junk, it places more stress on your body— therefore, increasing your cortisol levels and decreasing your body’s ability to function properly. Eat a well-balanced nutrition plan of whole foods that contain plenty of vegetables, lean proteins, high quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and a few fruits. Plenty of vegetables and colorful fruits are also high in anti-oxidants (which helps to fight the negative effects of stress on the body)! Limit your alcohol and sugar because as the body become stressed, you crave both of these more!
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