For the most part, exercise makes us feel great. It fills us with energy, lifts our mood, and prevents disease. But too much of a good thing often leads to problems down the road, and over time too much exercise can cause serious wear and tear.
As someone who absolutely loves fitness, I like to exercise at least five days per week, but I always make sure to set aside two days for rest and active recovery. Why? Because if I vigorously exercised more than that, it starts to damage my body. In case you need more convincing, here are three ways over-exercising can damage the body.
1. Over-exercising can damage bones and muscles.
People who over-exercise are putting themselves risk for damaging their bones due to cortisol’s interference with bone-building. While the definition of over-exercising is different for each person—for some people over-exercising means five hours of strenuous exercise per week, for others it's more—too much strenuous exercise can raise our cortisol levels. Cortisol is a steroid hormone which regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body including metabolism and the immune response.
When cortisol is in your bloodstream, more bone tissue is broken down in the body, which contributes to stress. So if you're over-exercising, you're putting yourself at greater risk for injury. The more you over-exercise, the more likely you are to end up with torn and pulled muscles and loss in bone density, which could result in lack of mobility later in life. Who wants that?
2. Too much exercise can make it harder to get pregnant.
If you're having a tough time conceiving, take a long look at your exercise habits. According to a study published in Fertility and Sterility, women who exercised vigorously for five or more hours per week had a 42% harder time getting pregnant than those who exercised more moderately.
Of course, exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, so you should make sure to incorporate it into your routine not matter what—just opt for less-intense forms of exercise like Pilates, yoga, and swimming a few times a week, and make sure to take rest days.
3. How to tell if you're over-exercising.
Now that we've discussed the risks associated with too much exercise, let's talk about how to tell if you're actually over-exercising. If your legs are heavy, you get sick often despite living a healthy lifestyle, you're sore for days on end, you're either sleeping too much or having trouble falling asleep, or your workout leaves you feeling exhausted instead of energized, these could be some signs that you're spending too much time engaging in strenuous exercise and not enough time recuperating.
4. What should you do on your rest days?
If you're going to the gym five or six days per week, you can choose to sit still on your rest days, but your muscles will be a lot happier if you take a walk or engage in lighter forms of exercise like yoga, swimming, bike riding or stretching. By the time you do start exercising again, your muscles and body will be ready to go.