While regular physical activity is known to bring numerous health and wellness benefits, an excess of intense physical activity or extreme exercising may bring its own health risks.
New research has highlighted that there is such a thing as extreme exercising. Many ladies and guys, including some of the world’s fittest, have taken their final breaths while exercising or engaged in sporting activities. Read on to find out how to outsmart this undertaker.
A new study has concluded that too much exercise may be bad for your heart, especially with some that have underlying conditions. This result seems conflicting, given that inactivity is linked with health risks such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Previous studies usually focus on how much, or how little exercise, is required to benefit health, but in recent times, studies are exploring the long-term impact of intense or extreme exercising on the body.
Potential Risks Of Intense Exercise
Research conducted over a period of 25 years showed that those who had engaged in physical activity that was significantly over the national physical activity guidelines were at an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease by the time they reached middle age.
I don’t need to go into full details of the study, but the results showed that people who engage in physical activity that exceeds the recommended amount were at an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Exceeding the recommended amount would be three times over the recommended 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of weekly vigorous-intensity exercise.
Furthermore, as per the study, the risks related to extreme exercising were more prominent in white participants, who were at an 80% higher risk of developing coronary artery disease.
Funny enough, those who exercised less were not safe either from health risks, and are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes by middle age.
This demonstrates that both too much and too little exercise have its health risks, suggesting that the best way to go is a moderate amount of exercising.
Strenuous activity at work is not exercising and poses risk to health
I have heard experts advised patients on how to stay active, and such advice includes making their work a bit strenuous to create the effect of exercising; like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc….
Such advice conflicts with the result of researchers in Paris, France, that investigated the impact of physical activity on health. They found that high intensity sporting physical activity was associated with health benefits and that it was physical activity at work that was the kind of activity that posed a threat to long-term health.
This suggests that chronic, strenuous activity at work may pose a threat to your health.
How Much Exercise Is Too Much?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendations can act as a guide to gauge how much exercise you need for general health.
For adults ages 18 to 64, the recommendation is at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.
They also encourage exercising or workouts that improve your balance and build muscular strength two or more times per week.
Calculating The Right Amount of Exercise
If you’re already regular in exercising or going to the gym, the HSS recommendation might sound little to you, but remember that those are the minimum recommended amounts of activity.
The HSS seems to go with the belief that even more exercise comes with even more health benefits, and if you have specific goals like weight loss, strength training, or getting better at a particular sport, you’ll likely need to exercise more.
For example, the American College of Sports Medicine 2019’s guidelines state that, while 150 to 250 minutes of exercise per week can yield modest weight-loss results, you’ll need to exercise more than 250 minutes per week and temperately restrict your diet to see more notable results. In practice, that looks like working out for one hour 5 days per week.
Similarly, while two days per week of general strength training will support muscle growth, maximum muscle-building potential will require you to train each muscle group twice a week; this is according to a review in the journal Sports Medicine.
Thus, Calculating The Right Amount of Exercise for you means taking into account your fitness goals, age, nutritional habits, sleep schedule, and intensity of your training
Yes, Extreme Exercising Is Possible
Many might think that more is always better during exercise, however, that’s just plain untrue. If you carry out extreme exercising for weeks or months at a time, you put your body at risk of certain conditions and overtraining syndrome.
In one of the largest studies on excessive exercise, it was defined as any of the following, exercises:
- that interfere with important activities
- that exceeded three hours per day and caused distress if the individual were unable to exercise
- at inappropriate times and places and little or no attempt to suppress the behavior
- exercising despite more serious injury, illness or medical complication
When you exercise, you’re actually breaking down your muscle fibers, which is a good thing because when the body repairs and rebuilds them, your muscles are stronger and bigger than you were before.
But in order for the repair and rebuilding process to happen, you need adequate sleep, nutrition, and rest to promote recovery. Failure to give your body those things will interfere with your body’s ability to get stronger.
And if you continuously get in the way of your body rebuilding itself from the damage of the previous exercise, you take your body to a place of exercise-related stress.
This type of stress is something all exercisers should be aware of. Marathon or endurance runners and exercise junkies, who think rest days are boring, are especially susceptible.
Extreme Exercising And The Heart
As already indicated, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.
Note that vigorous-intensity activities include running, biking, swimming, dance classes, and strenuous sports, and moderate-intensity activities include walking, hiking, golfing, home exercises, and gardening.
High levels or extreme exercising over time may cause stress on the arteries; however, this plaque buildup may well be of the more stable kind, and less likely to rupture and causes a heart attack.
In the Copenhagen City Heart Study, moderate joggers had a 3x increased risk of dying early, compared to light joggers. For extreme joggers, the risk was 9x higher.
Another study that targets women found that women who engage in extreme exercising had a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, or a blood clot breaking free in the blood when compared to moderate exercisers.
However, not all research points to extreme exercising being bad for your health.
A Swedish studyTrusted Source of almost 74,000 non-elite long-distance cross-country skiers, found that those who had finished more races had a lower risk of dying early.
Other studies have found that the arteries of male extreme runners have larger diameters and are able to widen more, compared to those of sedentary men.
The logic is that, although extreme exercising may have a higher risk of coronary artery disease, wider arteries mean that this “may not necessarily translate into adverse outcomes.
None of these studies is a reason to stop being active, as we all could probably use a little more physical activity in our lives.
The takeaway here is that there may be an upper limit to the benefits of exercise, and after that point, the added stress may negatively impact your body — especially the heart.
The results from these studies are even more reason to put extra effort into taking care of your heart; and that includes eating a healthy diet, giving up smoking, and learning to manage your stress with practices like yoga, meditation, etc…
Can Exercising Too Hard Kill You?
Most people who have spent a lot of time in the gym, at home, or in the field training have heard of someone who keeled over dead while exercising.
The early years of running had the shocking example of Jim Fixx, who died while running in 1984. An autopsy revealed severe coronary artery disease as the cause. More recently, ultra-marathoner Micah True died on a run at age 58; autopsy showed that his heart was grossly enlarged.
And there’s the legend of the original marathoner, ancient Greece’s Pheidippides, who ran 25 miles to Athens, yelled Victory and collapsed dead.
So, can extreme exercising kill you? Well, for an unlucky few, the answer is yes, but that shouldn’t scare people away from endurance sports like marathons, triathlons, bike races, and open-water swims, etc…
There’s no study that shows that endurance athletes live shorter lives, and none suggests that when a person exercises vigorously to raise the pulse and respiratory rates — he or she has a higher risk of sudden death than when sitting at rest.
While such events are impossible to predict, one can guard against them by exercising lightly.
A few studies suggest there is a J-shaped curve in the relationship between exercise and mortality, with extreme exercising putting you at greater risk.
Other studies have found that some long-distance runners leak cardiac enzymes after races, which indicates damage to heart cells. Some of these athletes have unexpectedly large amounts of calcium in their coronary arteries; some show a higher incidence of atrial fibrillation compared with less extreme exercisers.
These findings are still being conclusively analyzed and there may be a subset of people for whom endurance training is hazardous, and one day it may be possible to identify them. Until then, experts warn against making too much of the studies or getting into extreme exercising yourself.
There are many definitions of addiction, but one thing addicts have in common is the repetition of behavior past the point where it becomes self-injurious.
In exercise, this means, quite literally, refusing to stop or limit your routine even when it’s affecting your overall wellbeing or you’ve got an injury.
Some insist on rising at five to run each morning, even when their back is aching, and others see eating as a mere way to replenish for the next race. People in this group may have an exercise addiction.
For the vast majority of us, we don’t get enough exercise. But a small minority of perfectionist athletes are perceived by some as “exercise addicts, or obsessive athletes.”
As many as 10% of high-performance runners, and bodybuilders, may have an exercise addiction.
Half an hour of moderate physical activity is enough to help prevent conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Exercise addicts tend to think that the more they train, the healthier; It doesn’t work that way.
Too much exercise can lead to injuries, exhaustion, and depression. It can also cause lasting physical harm.
Extreme exercisers have an extreme need for control
You can distinguish healthy exercise devotees from exercise addicts. Extreme exercising is associated with people who feel an extreme need for control in their lives.
Addiction can also mean exercising at inappropriate times; like exercising outside during thunderstorms. I have heard of an addict who had to maintain his routine of running while his wife was in labor.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Extreme Exercising that Shows You’re Exercising Too Much
There are too many factors to be taken into consideration in order to determine how much exercise is too much (nutrition, stress, intensity, age, etc.). But while there’s no fits-all rule for determining extreme exercising, there are common symptoms associated with the condition that you can look out for.
Too tired to train:
This is because your body isn’t adequately recovering between exercise sessions.
You appear to be getting less fit:
At a certain point, overtraining will actually move you further and further away from your goals. Look at it this way; if your muscles are constantly breaking down and never getting enough nutrients and time to repair, you’re going to get weaker.
After all, our muscles get bigger and stronger when we leave the field or gym, not when we’re there.
You’re gaining weight:
extreme exercising puts your body in a state of chronic stress. This messes up your stress hormone (cortisol), and affects your metabolism; it can lead to gaining weight.
Your muscles feel so sore:
muscle soreness for a day or two after an intense exercising session is normal. But, four days upwards is a sign your body isn’t properly recovering or repairing the damage.
You’re emotional and moody:
Extreme exercising can seriously affect your mental health and can sap your drive, rendering you short-tempered, cranky, sad, anxious, depressed, and a whole host of mood changes.
Of course, there may be other causes of emotional, and mental changes, and if you’re feeling off, talk to your doctor before concluding.
Your sleep lacks quality:
It’s usually true that the more you exercise, the easier it would be to fall asleep. But extreme exercising can cause your sleep quality to down the drain.
You easily get an injury:
Frequently getting injured like pulling a muscle or aggravating an old injury, can be a sign of too much exercise.
This is because, you’re exercising with broken down, weakened muscles, which makes you more susceptible to injury and increases your risk for over-use and compensatory injuries.
Your heart rate is unstable:
If your resting heart rate is more of hammering or pounding than beating, chances are that you have been overtraining. That’s because, if your body is working overtime to meet the needs of your training, it can affect your resting heart rate.
You don’t need a heart rate monitor to notice, but the benefit of good heart-rate tracking gadgets (like the Apple Watch) is that they also measure your heart rate variability. For example, if you’re in a restful state like lying in bed, and you feel your heart racing, that might be an indicator that you’re over-exercising.
How to Recover From Extreme Exercising
Some of the symptoms of extreme exercising sound familiar. But firstly, you will have to chat up a specialist or healthcare provider. That’s because many of the symptoms can also be symptoms of other serious health conditions like heart disease, hypertension, depression, and more.
Once these conditions have been ruled out, and it’s been confirmed that you really do have problems from extreme exercising, your next step is to scale your routine back.
Usually, I will suggest going at least one week without any exercise to help your body reset and recover fully. I will also recommend that you work with a trainer who can calculatedly write a program for you based on your fitness goals and current lifestyle. And, of course, it’s important that you follow the program and observe your rest when a rest day is scheduled.
Also, given that inadequate nutritional intake often contributes to overtraining, you should also work with a nutritionist to figure out exactly what you should be eating to complement your training goals.
The Bottom Line
Getting the recommended amount of exercise as per HSS is important; getting more than that is okay as long as you have a goal in mind that also provides enough time to rest and recover between workouts.
But if you start to experience any of the symptoms associated with extreme exercising, scale back, and partner with a fitness professional who will guide and streamline your routines to achieve your goal.
The take-home message here is that there is likely a limit to how much exercise is good for you, and your long-term health should be considered in light of these findings.