How much exercise is too much?
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 18:02
Do you work out twice a day? Have you found yourself missing commitments to go to the gym? Do you fit your workout into your day or does your day fit into your workout? If you have asked yourself these questions, you may suffer from exercise addiction.
For most of us, regular exercise is a healthy habit. However, today as many as 10 percent of runners and bodybuilders are classified as excessive exercisers. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the average person only needs 30-45 minutes per day of exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but there are many people who feel adding an extra 1-2 hours on to that regiment automatically gives them the upper hand with their health. They fail to realize that it doesn’t work that way.
“From a strength and conditioning standpoint, excessive exercise is when the catabolic effects of rigorous exercise exceed anabolic effects of muscle building and bone reformation,” said Christian Barnes, exercise science lecturer at UNCW. “Basically, stressing the body more than one can keep up with.”
Those with exercise addiction often become dependent upon the pleasure it brings them and become unable to stop. There is an excess release of endorphins in the brain during exercise, causing a gratifying feeling resembling that of a drug. Too often gym-goers become addicted to that pleasure, yet fail to see the damage they are causing their bodies.
In 2011, a study was conducted in Britain to compare the heart damages of excessive exercise on active and retired Olympic athletes ages 26-67 years old. The control group included 20 healthy adults 50 years of age and older who were not Olympic athletes. Exercise addiction was proven most prevalent among those 20 years of age to those in their mid-thirties, however there were cases in athletes older than 50.
The young adults and control group showed no serious damage to their hearts. Conversely, the group of retired Olympic athletes aged 50-67 had relevant heart damage. Half of the older Olympic group was diagnosed with fibrosis (scarring) of the heart. This particular half included those that had worked the most vigorously over their careers, proving strenuous exercise can be seriously damaging to the body.
So how do you know if you’re exercising too much?
“In 1890, a study was conducted on exercise throughout a man’s day. At 4:30 a.m. he would chop wood. He would make breakfast, change, and walk four miles to work as a doctor. After he would walk home four miles, chop more wood, make dinner and go to bed just to do it all over again,” said Barnes. “Genetically we all respond differently to exercise as a mechanical stress.”
Regardless of how much you exercise, how it will affect you is dependent on your genetic background and personal lifestyle. For the man mentioned above, that was an average day. However, for the average man today, that may be more exercise than they perform in a week.
Today, if you are a male with less than 5 percent body fat, or a female below 8 percent, then you most likely need to cut down on your exercise. But there are other, simpler, ways to tell.
“You’ve got nerves in your body and an inflammation system. If it hurts? Then stop!” said UNCW professor Robert Boyce. “Start off very easy if you are not used to exercise. In the first two weeks there should be no severe soreness. Soreness means injury.”
According to Barnes, there is often a four-stage process in the bodily functions of adults addicted to exercise. The first stage involves altered neuron function. The cells in your body begin to function improperly. The second stage involves altered motor unit movement, or lack of muscle coordination. The third stage involves mood alteration, increased blood pressure, and an altered immune system. Lastly the fourth stage involves sickness, infection, and emotional and sleep disturbances. But these symptoms may vary depending on the specific person.
Exercise can serve as a positive outlet for anyone willing to take the time to do it. However, it is easier to overdo exercise than one would think. Take it slow, monitor your progress, and if something begins to hurt, stop!