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What Are the Effects of Too Much Exercise?

By C. Mitchell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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While exercise in moderation is essential for good health, the effects of too much exercise are overwhelmingly negative: fatigue, muscle loss, stress injuries, heart failure, and a weakened immune system are only a few of the consequences of pushing things too far. Sometimes, the effects of too much exercise manifest themselves as exercise addictions or compulsions. More often, however, the effects of too much exercise are subtle. The body slowly breaks down and loses strength over time, which usually culminates in a serious injury or organ failure.

What exercise gives the body, it can also take away if not properly balanced. For instance, moderate cardiovascular exercise has been proved to strengthen the heart and improve its ability to efficiently pump blood throughout the body. Too much heart-pumping exercise can wear the heart down, however. A heart that is asked to do too much for too long has an increased likelihood of weakening, or failing altogether.

The same is true with respect to muscle mass. Overexercise can cause the body to cannibalize its own muscle to use as fuel when none is otherwise available. This can lead to muscle loss and dangerously low body fat. In women, too much exercise often leads to amenorrhea, which can profoundly affect fertility.

Healthy proportions of both muscle and fat are required for the body to function optimally. Being toned and in shape does not mean having no fat, or wearing down all visible muscles. When muscles are weakened, repetitive stress injuries and stiffness and soreness in joints are likely to follow.

Chemical imbalance is another negative effect of too much exercise. Healthy bodies typically secrete certain chemicals during a moderate workout, including adrenaline and cortisol. Both of these are stimulants that help make muscle movements more efficient. Exercising too much, or pushing the body too hard for too long, can result in extraneous buildup of these substances. Too much adrenaline or cortisol in the blood can cause stress, insomnia, and lack of focus in day-to-day activities.

For some people, exercising too much is a compulsion. Compulsive exercise, also called exercise addiction, is believed by many mental health professionals to be a type of psychosomatic disorder. Particularly in young people, compulsive exercise often goes hand-in-hand with eating disorders.

Compulsive exercise as an addiction or mental condition is different than simply over-training. Celebrities, athletes, and exercise aficionados from all walks of life are at risk of over-training if they take more from the body than they give. A balanced exercise regimen requires proper food, adequate rest, and a variety of activities targeting different muscle groups in order to allow the body to recover between workouts.

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Discussion Comments

By comfyshoes — On Apr 26, 2011

@Mutsy - I totally agree with you and I want to add that there needs to be a support group that the person addicted to exercise can attend because if not they will relapse and go back to their old habits the minute they have a stressful day.

I think that if people that had the problem of overtraining saw the visual effects of what overtraining did to other people they might become more motivated to curtail their exercise routine.

Sometimes the effects of the personal relationships are just as bad as the damaging effects of the body.

By mutsy — On Apr 24, 2011

@Bhutan -I agree with you and I think that is what most people don’t understand that an exercise addiction is like any other addiction and the person usually cannot stop unless they have support and outside help.

The problem that I see is that the person with the exercise addiction is getting some benefit from the addiction and until they realize the price that they are paying for this benefit they will not change.

They also see images of people that look perfect in magazines and they want to strive for that ideal. The thing that they don’t realize is that those people have had touch ups and were probably air brushed in order to look that way. A computer can easily remove twenty pounds and still make the person look natural.

I think that exercise addiction and overtraining stems from the desire to look perfect at all costs.

By Bhutan — On Apr 21, 2011

@Subway11 - It is really sad when someone has an exercise addiction. Overtraining not only increases the risk of injury but it changes a relaxing and therapeutic activity and turns it into a stressful one.

It really never allows you to relax and many people develop colds and flu because of their weaken immune system. Also your body needs at least a day or two to heal in order to recover.

I think that another way to know if you are exercising too much is if you are neglecting other parts of your life as well as close relationships. If you have no time for anything else because the exercise addiction has taken over then you really need to see a therapist that treats addictive disorders because it may be too much for you to handle on your own and when you become addicted to anything it is hard to stop.

By subway11 — On Apr 18, 2011

I was watching a documentary the other day about people with eating disorders and many also had exercise addictions as well. I think that exercise is easy to abuse because it is so closely associated with losing weight.

Exercise and weight control go hand in hand and the effects are initially addictive because you feel better when you exercise and start to look better as well. The problem is that there is a point in which you no longer feel better and become irritable because the exercise rules your life.

When you can’t think about anything else but exercise and have become increasingly thin due to overtraining than you know that you are exercising too much.

In the documentary that I was watching many of the participants exercised as a means of eliminating whatever calories that they recently ate so they were like bulimics in that way.

But instead of throwing up they used exercise as a means to eliminate the calories. It was really sad because when you try to be perfect you will never get there because no one is perfect.

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