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Can exercise turn into a health threat?

26th November 2015

The health benefits of physical activity are well known: staying active and exercising regularly keeps you in good shape, improves your mood and cognition, helps you sleep better, regulates your appetite and boosts your metabolic rate. It’s an enjoyable way of keeping your weight under control, stimulating your circulation and lymphatic drainage and building strong bones and muscles.

However, just like all the other good things out there, exercise can turn into a threat when done in excess. Engaging in strenuous physical activity can negatively impact one’s cardiovascular health, suggests a review published some years ago in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Researchers from the Hospital of Kansas City investigated the effects of excessive endurance exercise on the cardiovascular system, and found that in some people, exercising too much can lead to permanent damage of the heart or blood vessels.

It’s not a secret that intense workouts cause temporary damage to the body, not only to the blood vessels but also to the muscle fibers. This is why it’s recommended to recover after endurance training, and to allow your tissues to heal completely. Repeated endurance training can prevent the blood vessels, heart and muscles from recovering completely, and can lead to chronic injuries, abnormal heart rhythm and coronary heart disease.

The mentioned study found that 12% of marathon participants have patchy myocardial scarring, which is the result of incomplete recovery after strenuous exercise. Marathon participants were also found to be more prone to coronary heart disease than runners who only participate in shorter competitions. Professional cyclists at their turn tend to be more prone to atrial fibrillation.

These findings suggest that although daily exercise is highly effective in keeping one healthy and strong and preventing a series of health conditions, there is an upper limit beyond which the benefits of exercise may be outweighed by adverse effects.

How to tell if you exercise too much

If your workouts leave you exhausted instead of energized and you no longer enjoy going to the gym or for a run, it may be time to cut back a little and give your body the time to recover properly. Excess exercise doesn’t cause only physical fatigue, it can also cause exhaust you psychically, as it’s a form of stress that affects all your systems.

The role of exercise is to keep you in shape, energized and happy, so if you’re moody after workouts, if you’re stressed and feel guilty for missing one training session, and you no longer see changes in your appearance or endurance despite increasing the intensity or length of your workouts, it may be tome to reconsider your training routine.

After high intensity workouts, such as intense weight lifting sessions, long running sessions or HIIT workouts, your body needs to recover completely in order to avoid injuries and to rebuild the damaged tissues. Answer the questions below to see if you exercise too much and are at risk for burnout:

– you feel anxious and guilty if you skip a workout

– you need to make up for every workout session you miss

– you schedule your day around your workouts and feel moody if you don’t manage to exercise one day

– you feel unworthy if you don’t push hard enough and don’t leave the gym feeling completely drained of energy

– despite working harder and harder, your body composition and weight no longer improve

– your muscles feel sore most of the days and you tend to retain excess water

– you get ill more frequently and recovery takes longer than before

If you’re no longer seeing results but want to change something, try alternating your workouts instead of instead of increasing the intensity or length of your training sessions. Add whole body vibration to your routine, or switch from HIIT and weight lifting to lighter cardio and aerobic activities for a while, until your body fully recovers.

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