A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Is it possible to over-exercise?

Woman stretching in exhaustion after workout: Is it possible to over-exercise?

It’s rare, but long-distance runners can develop irregular heart rhythms from overtraining.

Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. That’s true even when it comes to exercise.

You could get injured doing too much too soon. In very rare cases, it’s possible to develop unhealthy addictions to exercise or experience heart problems from too much endurance competition, said Dr. Laurel Rudolph, a Marshfield Clinic sports medicine physician.

No matter what exercise program you choose, remember to pace yourself, listen to your body’s signals and vary your fitness routine for safe, healthy training.

Rare but serious side effects

Exercise addiction is real and it doesn’t mean hitting the gym daily or skipping happy hour to workout.

Exercise becomes an obsession for people who are addicted. It interferes with their lives and relationships. Exercise addiction often is connected to eating disorders and requires care from a behavioral health provider.

Over-exercising can cause physical problems, too. Some endurance athletes experience arrhythmias, or irregular heart rhythms, from consistent overtraining, Rudolph said. It’s rare but has been seen in ultra-marathon runners who frequently race distances of 50 miles or more.

For the vast majority of people, there’s no need to worry since exercise has cardiovascular benefits and won’t cause heart problems.

Exercise and overuse injuries

Overuse injuries are more common results of over-exercising, Rudolph said. They often affect people who jump full speed ahead into new exercise programs. However, experienced athletes can get injured, too.

A day or two of muscle soreness after exercise is expected. If your muscle pain doesn’t fade in two days, cut back on your workouts by 10-20 percent, Rudolph said.

Stress fractures sometimes are mistaken for shin splints. Achy shins that last for days may mean a stress fracture is developing in your tibia and it’s time to see a doctor.

Cross-train, listen to your body

Exercising six or seven days a week is safe if you cross-train and rest when you need to.

“Focusing on one part of the body or one exercise often is detrimental,” Rudolph said. “It’s important to train other muscle groups and alternate what you’re doing.”

Runners: Try adding yoga and strength training to your workout routine. If weightlifting is your thing, don’t train the same muscle group every day or skip cardiovascular exercise. Cross-training helps prevent injury and strengthens other areas of your body so you can achieve peak performance.

Watch for signs your body needs to rest, like fatigue and lasting pain. Rest days won’t ruin your progress and may prevent injuries that could keep you sidelined longer than a few days.

  1. Apr 29, 2016
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