When is it too much of a good thing not a good thing?

Let’s go back to the basics: if it feels good, it is usually good; if it feels like pain, that is a sign that your body is injured or needs a break. And pain is not always obvious right away – it can sneak up on you over time.

Pain is our body’s way of warning and protecting us by stimulating the nervous system to produce chemical reactions (a stress response) to signal the body. Unfortunately it has become a badge of honor in our American culture to go-go-go, deprive ourselves of certain foods, exercise six days a week, and generally push ourselves in the name of health and strength. But what if that is doing more harm than good?

The following nine symptoms may signal that you need to cut back on your exercise routine and allow your body to recover between sessions:

  1. Exercise leaves you exhausted instead of energized
  2. You get sick easily, or it takes longer than normal to get over an illness
  3. You have the blues or anxiety
  4. You’re unable to sleep or you can’t seem to get enough sleep
  5. You have ”heavy” legs, or feel weighed down
  6. You have a short fuse and are quick to anger or irritation
  7. You’re regularly sore for days at a time
  8. You have irregular periods or no periods at all
  9. Recurrent injuries such as overuse injuries, tendonitis, shin splints, etc.

As a physical therapist, and life-long athlete, I am just as susceptible as anyone to the trap of over exercising or experimental dieting. Ten years ago I was religiously going to swim practice and as my swim times got slower, I worked harder. I was gaining weight and so I ate less and tried all sorts of diets. My immune system tanked with frequent colds, respiratory infections, depression, and anxiety. Even food sensitivities and weird allergic reactions began to surface. I would swim so hard, I would get out of the pool and vomit. In short, my body had had enough. The exercise I loved most became my enemy.

Over training and disordered eating (disturbed and unhealthy eating patterns that can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals), are often co-conspirators leading to real problems, both short and long term consequences in health and fitness.

Stress (especially chronic stress) without recovery, will spike and alter cortisol rhythms. Cortisol is a steroid hormone which regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body including:

  • Sex hormones
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Metabolism
  • Immune system

Over-exercising puts you at greater risk for injury. The more you over-exercise, the more likely you are to end up with pulled or torn muscles, loss in bone density, altered menstrual cycles, pain, anxiety, disordered sleep cycles, and irregular metabolism. The exact opposite of why you started exercising in the first place!

If you find yourself experiencing several of the above nine signs that your exercise routine may be too much, take a pause and evaluate the severity of your symptoms. Connect with a physical therapist, trainer or nutritionist who can help. Or just give yourself the week off and then slowly start introducing movement back into your routine.