Too Much Exercise: Is There Such a Thing?

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We hear over and over and over again that we NEED to exercise. And we do. But is there such a thing as too much exercise? And where do we draw the line?

While there is a true disorder of exercising too much, called anorexia athletica or compulsive exercise, that’s not what we’re talking about here. This is about people that just exercise a lot because they like it, or because they continually train for a big race. Let’s be honest, most of us would classify these people as crazy, but in actuality, I’m a bit jealous of their determination and accomplishment. Regardless, several studies have looked at people that participate in a lot of races and whether there’s an impact on their health or not.

Shockingly, those that finished the most races over a ten-year period were the most likely to have been hospitalized with heart problems such as irregular heart beat (arrhythmia). Not exactly what you’d expect from someone that’s in good enough shape to exercise consistently for at least a decade. While exercise in general improves heart health, this study is a sign that there is such a thing as too much. The intensity and/or exertion could end up hurting your heart as opposed to helping it, as shown by over 53,000 cross-country skiers’ health records. The same results applied to not only those that ran the most races, but those that finished the fastest. Another study looking at competitive endurance athletes showed more scarring of heart tissue, which could pose health problems down the road.

There is some good news though. Even though these exercisers were more prone to arrhythmias, it looks like they may still be less likely to suffer from heart problems that are fatal. The study that lead to the particular conclusion was done in rats, but hopefully the same thing applies to humans.

So while this information certainly isn’t an excuse not to exercise at all, maybe it’s a reason to lift some of the self-induced pressure so many casual athletes endure. You don’t have to run 10 marathons to call yourself a runner; you can run one, or none. You don’t have to place in your age group to be an athlete; you can just finish. Heck, even starting can just be good enough. And who says you have to race at all? Just training or hitting the gym should be good enough to feel accomplished. So don’t worry about constantly needed to go further and faster; it may backfire down the road anyways.