How much exercise is too much?

Find out if you could be exercising too often

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

03 August 2020

How much exercise should we do?

Guidelines state that we should aim to do 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes in total) of aerobic exercise every week. This can be broken down into small segments of between 10-30 minutes each, or you may wish to longer workouts of about 60 minutes. Any activity that gets the heart rate up, such as cycling or fast-paced walking, counts towards this overall goal. In addition to this, we should also aim to incorporate strength activities into our routine at least two days a week.

Can you exercise too much?

Although I wouldn't like to discourage anyone from exercising, there are risks to pushing your body further than it is meant to go.

It is advised that we set ourselves the aim of exercising for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week. Adding a little extra activity on top of this, such as an additional walk or a family bike ride at the weekend, is not problematic. However, working out for several days in a row, particularly if these workouts are very long and intense, (a gym session, say, or a 60-minute run) can be problematic.

You see, exercise can cause damage to the muscle fibres (that's what causes the achiness we often feel after a particularly hard bike ride or hike) and they need time to repair and recover. Jumping into your next exercise session too soon does not allow time for this repair work to occur, and so injury (or continued achiness!) is more likely. Generally speaking, the harder and longer your workout is, the more time your body needs to recover.

There may also be associations between extreme exercise and cardiovascular issues1; though I must stress that anyone sticking close to the guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise per week is actually likely to boost their heart health.

So, working out at an intense level every single day can count as too much exercise, however, small stints of activity to reach the recommended goal of 2 hours and 30 minutes exercise per week is beneficial for our health.

A.Vogel Self-Care Tip: How much exercise should we do a week?

Watch my video below to find out more about the current exercise guidelines.

Signs you are doing too much exercise

If you are stuck in the same exercise routine week after week, it can be hard to identify when your body needs a break. Here are some common signs that your body is doing too much exercise:

  • Tiredness
  • Poor exercise performance
  • Reduced motivation
  • Frequent colds and flu
  • Injury
  • Muscle aches/heaviness
  • Needing more rest

If you regularly experience one or more of these issues, have a week of rest, or at least a few days, to see if things improve. If your symptoms persist then it is time to talk them through with your doctor.

When someone develops compulsive behaviours around exercise, this too can be problematic. Signs of compulsive exercise include:

  • Skipping social events to exercise
  • Feelings of guilt after missing a workout
  • Exercising when injured or sick
  • No longer enjoying being active
  • Periods that stop (women)

If you experience any of these issues, it is important to seek the advice of your doctor.

Long term impact of too much exercise

Over time, training too hard can increase the risk of developing chronic injuries. In runners, issues can occur in the knee joint, for example, because of the forceful impact of this movement.

When exercise becomes a heavy feature in our lives, there is also the danger that we can become obsessed about it. This is unhealthy as we lose perspective and feelings of guilt or anger may develop when workouts are missed or performance dips.

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How to avoid exercising too much

  • Look out for signs of unhealthy behaviours, such as feeling guilty when you miss a workout.
  • Incorporate some gentle exercises throughout the course of the week to allow your body time to recuperate. This might be some walking or a bit of stretching, for example.
  • Make a schedule so that you know exactly how much you are doing.
  • Take a break every so often. This might include rest days or, if your workouts are particularly intense, you can afford to take a week or so off altogether.

Quick fire questions about your exercise routine

Is exercising every day too much?

Doing an intense workout every day, such as a gym session or run, is not advisable due to the strain it puts your body under. I would always suggest incorporating rest days into your routine, as well as some gentle activities like swimming.

What should I do on a rest day?

On a rest day, you can break up sedentary activities with some walking or light stretching.

How long should I work out each day?

This can vary. If the end goal is to do 150 minutes of exercise a week, we can break this down into small segments of activity, such as 10-30 minutes.

What happens if you work out every day?

Working out every day can increase tiredness; it reduces performance and it may increase the risk of injury.

Can I work out twice a day?

This is not something I would recommend, especially if your workouts are quite intense or long. You could, however, aim to work out twice a day if you stick to short workouts of ten minutes or so.

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