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Are you getting too much exercise?

Health experts recommend moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week. So you may be surprised to learn that you can get too much exercise. If you exercise often and find that you are often tired or your performance suffers, it may be time to back off for a bit.

Learn the signs that you may be exercising too much. Find out how to keep your competitive edge without overdoing it.

How too Much Exercise can Hurt

To get stronger and faster, you need to push your body. But you also need to rest.

Rest is an important part of training. It allows your body to recover for your next workout. When you do not get enough rest, it can lead to poor performance and health problems.

Pushing too hard for too long can backfire. Here are some symptoms of too much exercise:

  • Being unable to perform at the same level
  • Needing longer periods of rest
  • Feeling tired
  • Being depressed
  • Having mood swings or irritability
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling sore muscles or heavy limbs
  • Getting overuse injuries
  • Losing motivation
  • Getting more colds
  • Losing weight
  • Feeling anxiety

If you have been exercising a lot and have any of these symptoms, cut back on exercise or rest completely for 1 or 2 weeks. Often, this is all it takes to recover.

If you are still tired after 1 or 2 weeks of rest, see your health care provider. You may need to keep resting or dial back your workouts for a month or longer. Your provider can help you decide how and when it is safe to start exercising again.

How to Avoid Overtraining

You can avoid overdoing it by listening to your body and getting enough rest. Here are some other ways to make sure you are not overdoing it:

  • Eat enough calories for your level of exercise.
  • Decrease your workouts before a competition.
  • Drink enough water when you exercise.
  • Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • DO NOT exercise in extreme heat or cold.
  • Cut back or stop exercising when you don't feel well or are under a lot of stress.
  • Rest for at least 6 hours in between periods of exercise. Take a full day off every week.

Compulsive Exercising

For some people, exercise can become a compulsion. This is when exercise is no longer something you choose to do, but something you feel like you have to do. Here are some signs to look for:

  • You feel guilty or anxious if you do not exercise.
  • You continue to exercise, even if you are injured or sick.
  • Friends, family, or your provider are worried about how much you exercise.
  • Exercise is no longer fun.
  • You skip work, school, or social events to exercise.
  • You stop having periods (women).

Compulsive exercise may be associated with eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. It can cause problems with your heart, bones, muscles, and nervous system.

When to Call a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you:

  • Have signs of overtraining after 1 or 2 weeks of rest
  • Have signs of being a compulsive exerciser
  • Feel out of control about how much you exercise
  • Feel out of control about how much you eat

Your provider may recommend that you see a counselor who treats compulsive exercise or eating disorders. Your provider or counselor may use one or more of these treatments:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Antidepressant medicines
  • Support groups

References

American College of Exercise. Top 10 Signs You're Overtraining. www.acefitness.org/updateable/update_display.aspx?pageID=634. Accessed July 18, 2016.

Carfagno DG, Hendrix JC. Overtraining syndrome in the athlete: current clinical practice. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2014;13(1):45-51. PMID: 24412891 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24412891.

Meeusen R, Duclos M, Foster C, et al. Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the overtraining syndrome: joint consensus statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45(1):186-205. PMID: 23247672 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23247672.

Rothmier JD, Harmon KG, O'Kane JW. Sports medicine. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 29.

Review Date: 7/13/2016

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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