We are always told that physical activity is important for our bodies. Physical inactivity, often referred to as a sedentary lifestyle, causes weight gain. Yet, an estimated 36% of American adults do not get enough exercise. This leads to coronary heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, breast cancer, and even osteoporotic fractures, according to one study (1).
While everyone is focusing on the fact that we need to exercise to lose weight, emerging evidence is suggesting that exercising too much could actually prevent you from losing weight effectively. Apart from potentially interfering with your ability to lose weight, scientists have discovered that if you push your body too much, there are other complications that could develop as well.
We explore the potential consequences of excessive exercise in this post and look at how too much physical activity could be harmful to your weight loss program. We will also consider what the best way is to exercise without a lack or too much of “a good thing.”
What Happens To Your Body If You Exercise Too Much
During exercise, your body goes through a number of processes. The temperature of your internal body starts to rise. This is an essential process as it allows for the fat to be burnt (2). Your body starts to release “feel good” hormones, and you burn excess calories. At the same time, it is important to note that you start to sweat – and this means you are losing fluids. Your muscles also get torn during exercise, which is why such an emphasis is often placed on the recovery process after physical activity.
This is where the issue with excessive exercise starts to come in. For every hour you participate in physical activity, you will lose up to three quarts water content (3). When you push your body too much, especially when you fail to rehydrate, then you may soon start to experience signs of dehydration.
Dehydration can be dangerous. While initial symptoms of this condition may include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, headaches, and dizziness, it can become a life-threatening condition if you do not act quickly to ensure your body can gain access to fluids.
The heart is also affected during exercise. While it is usually recommended to participate in physical activity to ensure the heart can remain healthy, one particular study (4) was able to prove that exercising too much could actually be harmful to the heart. The excessive level of exercise tends to put too much strain on the heart. What you may not realize is that your heart is a muscle that gets worked just like other muscles in your body. When you put too much strain on this muscle, you can make it weaker. The result could be something as life-threatening as heart failure.
There is yet another important fact to consider here. Some studies have found that when you exercise too much, the habit could also be harmful to your immune system. It is true that exercise helps to boost immune function (5). When you overdo it, however, then you start to damage various parts of your body – and your immune system is one particular area that definitely needs to be noted here.
Excessive Exercise And Weight Management
When it comes to looking at any type of weight loss plan, diet is not the only element that is part of such a program. In addition to changing the way you eat, you are also advised to ensure you get enough exercise to help burn excess calories and get rid of the extra fat that you are carrying around in your body.
Many people are looking to lose weight faster. The idea that comes to mind when the goal is to speed up weight loss is to make a weight loss program more aggressive. This does not only mean potentially further restricting calorie intake but also often includes increasing the amount of exercise you will be getting in on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, this is where things go down the wrong way.
During exercise, your adrenal glands go to work by releasing a hormone known as cortisol. This is known as a stress hormone. It is released when your body goes into what many calls the “flight or fight” mode. While small releases of the hormone are beneficial for your body, if you exercise too much, then the amount of cortisol released into your body becomes much more significant.
Overworked Adrenal Glands And A Surge Of Cortisol
When you have all of this cortisol flowing through your body, you start to experience a condition known as adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue refers to the dysfunction of the adrenal glands. The condition occurs when your adrenal glands are overworked – and when they became dysfunctional, they do not perform their functions in the right way.
Even though many physicians do not recognize adrenal fatigue as a real condition, scientific evidence has shown that there are certain symptoms that tend to show that the adrenal glands have become overworked.
When this condition occurs, you are most likely to experience fatigue. Your energy levels become exceptionally low. You may also have difficulties with your sleep. Some people have cravings for sugar or salt. Cognitive impairment, or rather “brain fog,” also seems to be commonly associated with “adrenal fatigue” (6).
The Effect Of Cortisol On The Thyroid Gland
As noted previously, cortisol is a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. The excessive stress placed on the body during prolonged periods of intensive exercise sessions causes more cortisol to be released than what would be considered “normal.”
The adrenal gland has a strong relation to the thyroid gland, and this is where the weight gain part of excessive exercise comes in. When you exercise too much and get those high levels of cortisol released into your bloodstream, the thyroid gland that sits in your neck will be affected negatively.
Cortisol causes the metabolism of your body to slow down. This happens because the Thyroid gland becomes less active when there is too much cortisol in the bloodstream.
The Thyroid gland is responsible for the production of two very important hormones. These include triiodothyronine, as well as thyroxine. The hormones are also called T3 and T4. Both of these hormones play an important role in metabolism, but T3 is considered a more active hormone than T4 (7).
When the production of these two hormones slows down, this is when your metabolism becomes slower as well. In turn, you become at risk of weight gain. Another way that cortisol and the stress placed on your body from too much exercise affects the Thyroid’s function is by blocking the conversion of T4 to T3. T4 is considered the inactive type of Thyroid hormone and does not have the same important role to play in the body as T3. What this means is you end up with a high concentration of reverse T3, but your body does not have a sufficient amount of normal T3 hormones.
If you already have a condition such as Hashimoto’s disease or Hypothyroidism, then symptoms can be greatly increased if you do decide to push yourself too hard in the gym.
Other Links Between Overtraining And Weight Gain
We have only looked at one way that overtraining may contribute to weight gain. That is by increasing cortisol levels, leading to adrenal fatigue, and slowing down the Thyroid’s functionality; thus leading to a reduction in the speed of your metabolism. There are, however, a couple of other ways that are training too much and pushing your body too far can contribute to an increase in your weight.
Let’s take a look at some common symptoms and complications that you may experience if you push things too far:
- Excessive fatigue
- An increase in hunger
- Frequent food cravings
- Low sleep
- An increase in insulin
- Depression and anxiety symptoms
By considering the above-mentioned symptoms, it should become clear what role overtraining tend to play on weight management.
Excessive fatigue means you will not have much energy. This decreases your motivation and makes you less likely to hit the gym again. You become less active because of this low energy levels. Now, combine this with the increase in food cravings and hunger. You frequently find yourself hungry – and most people find that they crave sweet things.
If you grab yourself a doughnut every time a craving strike, you are loading your body with empty calories. You are increasing the number of calories you are consuming, but without giving your body access to essential nutrients. This type of food is also not very filling, so you will obviously feel hungry again soon after. With the fatigue and low energy levels in place – you start to gain weight, as the balance between your calorie intake and expenditure has shifted.
The poor sleep that you may experience following intensive exercise sessions can also have an impact on your weight. A review paper (8) that was published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives explains that there is a strong connection between the rising incidence of poor sleep and the increase in obesity throughout the worldwide population.
The paper explains that one of the main ways that poor sleep seems to contribute to weight gain is through a disruption in bodily processes – with the main focus here on metabolism. As the internal clock of the human body becomes disrupted with poor sleep, the metabolism of the body also starts to suffer and slows down. There also seems to be a strong link between poor sleep and metabolic disorders, which include diabetes, a condition that has also been linked to obesity.
How Many exercises Will Be Safe For You?
We have now concluded that you do need exercise to keep your body healthy, but when you are too active and start to push your body to the extreme, it can be bad for you. Not only does your health start to suffer, but you also become less likely to lose weight with your physical activity program. In fact, you may rather be at risk of gaining more weight.
The question now is – how much should you exercise to keep your body healthy, lose weight, and be safe.
This is actually a difficult question to answer, as it really depends – what may be sufficient for one person may be seen as overtraining for another. You need to take your own physical well-being into account, and you need to listen to your own body. You will be able to notice when you are pushing yourself too much.
Generally, it is advised to gain some aerobic exercise and strength training on a weekly basis. On at least three days of each week, you should do some strength training. With aerobic activity, the general guidelines that have been provided by the Department of Health and Human Services advise to get at least about 150 minutes of aerobic activity – this is for a moderate level activity. If you do participate in a more vigorous type of aerobic exercise session, a minimum of 75 minutes is advised (9).
You certainly need exercise to keep your body and mind in good shape, but too much of this good activity could lead to harmful adverse effects in your body. Excessive exercise puts a strain on your heart, causes dehydration, and even interfere with your ability to sleep properly. Furthermore, scientists have also found that too much physical activity could cause issues with weight loss. Rather participate in a healthy physical exercise program that gives you just the right amount to benefit your health and your weight.