What actually happens to your body when you exercise too much?

Working out is great – as long as you aren’t putting too much strain on yourself.We find out what overexercising actually means.

Press Association
Last updated: 9 May 2018 - 8.55am

Any exercise is good for you, right? Well, broadly yes – dragging yourself off the sofa and to the gym can help reduce the risk of various diseases, improve your mental state and extend your life.

However, when it comes to exercise, there definitely can be too much of a good thing. It might seem that the more hours you spend working out, the better – but it is possible to over-exert yourself, and this can be hugely damaging for your body.

Here, Dr Emil Hodzovic from Medichecks.com reveals what overexercising means, and what actually happens when you consistently train too hard…

It can happen to anyone

Obviously, professional athletes have to be wary of over-exercising, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it can’t affect the average gym-goer as well.

This doesn’t mean that anyone who’s done a gruelling spin class is overdoing it. Hodzovic says: “It’s different from merely being tired after a good workout or aching the next day. It’s when these symptoms stick around for days and weeks on end.”

Overexercising isn’t just going too hard in your training. Hodzovic says it is a “combination of both training too much and recovering too little”.

It’s also important to think of the quality of your recovery. “Staying up for three nights on energy drinks and pizza to finish an assignment or project can contribute hugely to the ‘inadequate recovery’ part of the equation,” Hodzovic explains.

Short-term effects

Injured knee
Injuries can occur when you don’t rest properly between workouts (Thinkstock/PA)

Unfortunately, Hodzovic says over-exercising is “hard to define or identify”, because the line might be very different for different people. However, there are some short-term symptoms that could suggest you are taking things a little too far and not resting enough.

This includes a low mood and minimal motivation, which is particularly telling because exercise should release endorphins and ultimately boost your mood and energy levels. The same goes for poor sleep, something else that working out should help improve, if you’re getting the timings right.

It also could have an impact on the quality of your workouts. Chances are, if you’re overdoing it, your body will be so tired that your performance won’t be as good as you’re used to, and the intensity that you’re able to train at will go down as a result.

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Physically, it’s a no-brainer that overdoing it can give you pain in your muscles and joints, as well as increase the chance of injuries.

Hodzovic says: “These are caused by a host of physiological effects within the body, some of which can be measured directly. These can include blood tests and heart rate measurements.”

Long-term effects

 

A different kind of transformation Tuesday comin at ya. Left is February 2016, right is last week, June 2017. On the left I was ADDICTED to working out and was running myself into the ground. I was not eating close to what I should've been eating and ended up with a severe case of anemia causing a lack of energy to the point where I could barely get out of bed. Yet, I still forced myself to go to the gym although I felt like a zombie. The reason for this? Instagram. It becomes so easy to start comparing yourself to others on here, which led me to developing a mindset of – "how skinny can I get?" rather than "how healthy can I be?" A number on a scale does not and should not dictate happiness so I'm not going to get into that in this post. What I think I think is most important is how much HAPPIER I am in the photo on the right. I finally understand the term balance – my old idea of balance was cutting cals during the week, binging on the weekends, and then forcing myself to run miles on miles to make up for it. What is balance for me now? Listening to the cues my body gives me, eating intuitively (no more macros or calorie counting), nourishing my body with whole foods, taking rest days when my body needs them, and most importantly: prioritizing time with people I love. My only advice for you is don't fall into the Instagram trap. Not everything on here is picture perfect. Stop comparing yourself to others and start loving the body you have been given. After all, it is capable of great things!💪

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Exercise addiction is a very real and dangerous phenomenon. It’s unsurprising really – just think of the runner’s high, which often makes people want to pound the pavements more and more. Social media can be part of the picture too, increasing the pressure to fit in with unrealistic body expectations, and encouraging people to compare their own progress with others’.

Exercise addiction can also often come hand in hand with orthorexia – an obsession with eating what is considered to be ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ foods.

Woman resting in the gym
Consistently over-exercising can affect your balance of hormones (Thinkstock/PA)

As well as having a short-term impact, over-exercising can have significant long-term effects. Hodzovic describes how the constant stress on your body can change certain hormone levels, which might make it harder for diseases to be detected.

He says: “Salivary cortisol can help to identify serious disorders of cortisol production, such as Cushing’s disease, but can also allude to increases in stress, including training stress.

“Hormones such as testosterone, oestradiol and the thyroid hormones can also be suppressed by over-training and exacerbated by suboptimal nutrition, especially when taken to the extremes.”

What can you do about it?

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Unsure whether you might be overexercising? Hodzovic says using blood markers for baseline readings of your hormones to see how they change over time, which can often be an indicator that you’re putting your body under too much stress, can be helpful. “Heart rate variability and lying and standing heart rate readings are also used to assess recovery and over-training status,” he adds.

However, Hodzovic’s main recommendation for seeing if you are pushing it too hard is remarkably easy and unscientific. “One of the most effective tools is simply keeping an accurate training and performance log along with how you feel day to day, both in regards to training but also in terms of moods and feelings,” he says.

Woman at the gym
Tracking your workouts can help identify if you are overdoing it and not resting enough (Steve Parsons/PA)

“Irritability, anger, depression, apathy and increased perceived rates of exertion can all be signs of over-training, especially when there is no other obvious cause.”

Hodzovic says the solutions to over-training are simple enough, but might be tough to implement. “They include allowing adequate time for rest and recovery, ensuring adequate sleep, hydration and nutrition and even training in a different way for a period of time,” he says.

Addictions in any form can be damaging, physically and mentally, so it’s important to remember: In exercise, as in life, balance is key.

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