Can You Exercise Too Much? New Studies Raise Flags

photo credit: Jeff Hamaoui, Flickr

photo credit: Jeff Hamaoui, Flickr

I see the posts flow by in my social media stream. The CrossFit beatings ... the bootcamp pound downs ... the ultra marathon journeys. These days it's a badge of honor to beat your body into submission. To "will" yourself to the limit of your physicality. We glorify marathoners and give wan smiles to 5K-ers. We applaud one-armed pushups and ignore the person pushing out ten from the knees.  Is this mindset backfiring?  Are we working out too much? There is such a thing as wear and tear on the body. You can have overuse injuries such as tendinitis, joint inflammation, sore backs, bad knees, plantar fasciitis ... all can be aggravated or created from intense workouts. So is there a point to where we should work out and then not go beyond? I think there is. A new study reported on in The New York Times last week examined frequent distance  runners. They found the more often a person ran, the more likely they were to have heart arrhythmia. This same article also cited a 2011 study that showed frequent exercisers above the age of 50 tended to have more scarring in the heart tissue. Which raises the very valid question: can we go too far? I've recently been diagnosed with moderate adrenal fatigue and as part of my treatment I have been told to do gentle exercise only. I've limited myself primarily to 20 minutes of Pilates three times per week and walking between two and four miles per day. I am definitely feeling better, but I'm also hyper-focused on food and getting proper rest and on eliminating stress in my life.  (Trust me, the last one is the hardest one.) So I was curious and Googled adrenal fatigue and CrossFit and was surprised to see an essay from Robb Wolf, the father of the Paleo diet, talking about his issues with overexercising and adrenal fatigue. It's something he's been struggling with for five years now. I also found this revealing little discussion thread where quite a few CrossFitters were talking about adrenal fatigue. Just so you know, I am essentially eating Paleo at the moment, having eliminated all dairy (okay, almost all dairy) and all gluten from my diet.  If you get diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, it's the first thing they tell you to do along with regular sleep and backing off on exercise. You essentially want to keep your cortisol levels even and try not to spike them, which taxes the adrenals and the whole recovery thing takes longer (Robb Rolf's post breaks it down quite nicely, actually). And yes, adrenal fatigue is NOT recognized by the American Medical Association. It is quite likely your medical practitioner will tell you it's all in your head. I disagree, but I don't have a medical degree ... I'm just trying to feel better. But I digress. So can you overdo a workout? Not just one workout, but a bunch of them, so that you wind up with something a lot more serious than sore muscles. Two studies now have looked at possible heart issues. What about long-term joint issues? Hip replacements? Etc.? I don't know, but I'll continue to read about it and see how this all unfolds. I also don't want to scare anyone away from exercise. It's a GREAT, super-healthy thing to do. It keeps us limber, improves our brain function and sex life, decreases risk for obesity and all the diseases that come with it. Everyone should definitely be moving ... the question is only if there's a point where too much starts to become detrimental. Can you exercise too much? It's a good question. What do you think? Cheers, Lisa      

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.


3 Responses to Can You Exercise Too Much? New Studies Raise Flags

  1. Mark @ VibranceBotanicals August 7, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Hi Lisa,

    Great article!

    You can definately exercise too much and overtrain. Physical exercise is a form of stress which taxes the adrenal glands and can lead to adrenal exhaustion, expecially when combined with other forms of lifestyle stress such as work, social and family commitments. Simply trying to fit exercise into a busy lifestyle is stressful enough!

    As with most adrenal fatigue cases, eating healthy in order to support your training goals is one key element to recovery.

    I notice you mention gluten free – I have personally cut out processed carbs and virtually all dairy (cheese is my weak point!) and feel great! I still have energy to gym, cycle and run. Lots of protein and plenty of fresh veg seems to work for me.


  2. Lisa Johnson August 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    Glad you liked the article Mark. :-)

  3. Kimberley Weir August 8, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Absolutely 110% agree Lisa – this coming from a die hard Crossfitter who did Crossfit 5X a week. Last year I hit a wall I had new health issues develop with plantar fasciitis, my hasimotos thyroiditis flaring and growing a thyroid nodule and all that comes along with that – zero energy, depression, hair loss, fatigue, weakened immune system, etc I couldn’t live quality life never mind workout. I too was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and I’m on the mend slowly. Feeling 90% better than last year and I too am focusing on walking, yoga, meditation, good sleep, nutrition, and low stress (soooo hard to do I agree). I’m totally intrigued by that tidbit about Rob Wolf – interesting… Also totally baffled by our healthcare system not recognizing this epidemic – we are living lives that are too focused on faster, cheaper, “better”, we need to slow down and reassess our priorities as a nation. Lisa do share your progress on adrenal fatigue and how you are healing.

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