In true January-tradition, Instagram and Facebook are buzzing with advice and promises on eating better, exercising regularly to lose weight and shifting to a healthier lifestyle. Considering the nightmare 2020 was, people are overzealously trying to make up for lost time at the gym or otherwise, to get to their new fitness goals.
While we agree that there’s no high quite like the rush of endorphins (the happy hormones) post a workout or after a refreshing run (often referred to as ‘runner’s high’)—people tend to get hooked to this ‘positive’ vibe. However, like with any addiction, it’s quite possible to OD on physical exercise too! No, this doesn’t mean you go back to being a couch potato. Instead, just keep in mind that while working out is definitely good for you, overdoing it can have serious consequences for your body and mind.
Going too hard, too fast
Delhi-based fitness expert, Meenakshi Mohanty, explains, “Over-exercising might differ from person to person and often, depend on various factors like your age, health, and choice of workouts. If you are training too hard or overdoing it at the gym, your body is sure to respond negatively and result in—an increase in resting heart rate, unexplained weight loss and decreased appetite.”
Pushing yourself and your body can also lead to fatigue, ongoing muscle and joint pain unrelated to a specific injury, and stress fractures. Mumbai-based Tushar Mehta used to be a self-proclaimed fitness addict. When the weighing scales hit a century, Mehta hit the gym with a vengeance. “I shed 30 kilos over the course of a year, and this made me only head to the gym seven times a week.” He couldn’t even stop after hitting his fitness goal. “I became that obsessed guy at the gym who hated missing even a day. The Grinch who spoilt everyone’s fun even while on holidays. So much so that my fiance prefered going on vacations with her family or girl squad. I started feeling fatigued, cranky and being super annoyed with myself. That’s when I decided it was time to break-up… with the gym… for a bit.”
Says Mohanty, “Too much load on your body can also bring about increased stress and hormonal and mood changes. You may find it difficult to sleep or worse still, wake up feeling exhausted. ” If you’ve been working hard for all those gains and washboard abs, overdoing it will only undo all your efforts. Scarily, it may also damage your heart and arteries in the long run and even make your brain an exercise junkie. Withdrawal symptoms include—feeling anxious or exhausted when you miss a workout, feeling a lack of control and unable to cut down on exercise, even when you know it’s hurting your physical and mental health.
Additionally, men who work out too much experience loss of libido/sex drive due to physical fatigue and lower testosterone levels. The immune system suffers too. While moderate exercise can improve your immune system, excessive exercise can actually suppress it.
The balancing act
All of the above can seem like ‘scare tactics’ to keep you from being the lean, mean machine you are or want to be. Treat it as a crucial reminder: You need to find the right balance between—working out, resting and recovery to get the results you want too.
According to Mohanty, a lot of people have misconceptions around the duration needed for an ideal workout. Longer doesn’t always mean better or effective. “You need to first identify your fitness goal,” she says. “If you’re someone who wants to increase your overall health, you should exercise for at least 30 minutes to an hour. The frequency of sessions per week is based on your personal fitness level.”
“If you are just tipping your toes into the world of fitness, focus on training major muscle groups 2-3 times per week. Your workouts may be shorter at this level. Once you get to the intermediate or advanced levels—you can get to exercising 3-4 or 4-6 times per week, respectively. At that point, your workouts could last an hour or up to three hours. Remember that rest and recovery time is of utmost importance for getting desired results.”
Rest and recovery
Your muscles don’t grow instantly at the gym during or post a workout. During exercise, our muscles are broken down and microtears occur. Once you’re done, the recovery process begins. Rest can be defined as a combination of sleep and time spent not training, whereas recovery can be defined as actions and techniques implemented to maximize your body’s repair. for maximum gains—such as keeping your body hydrated, cooling down post a workout with stretches, fueling your system with a post-workout snack and regular body massages.
Moral of the story: There’s no denying that exercising is great for you: It can help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your heart health and even help fight depression. However, excessive exercise doesn’t provide more benefits than moderate exercise; it could only be riskier.
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