Are You Exercising Too Much?
In today's society, many people struggle with not exercising enough. Getting into the routine of exercising is a difficult thing, I totally get it. But I also feel and know there is another side to exercise that no one really discusses. And that's exercising too much.
I understand for the large majority of the population- this isn't an issue. But there's also A LOT of people out there who do exercise too much and that's who I want to talk today.
Why does exercising too much matter? How do you know if you are exercising too much?
It matters a lot, actually. If you are wondering if you might be overdoing it, that's already a sign that you might be...but let's dig deeper.
Why Does Over Exercising Matter?
Remember when we talked about HPA axis dysfunction when we discussed how to heal disordered eating and digestion, simultaneously?
It's the same idea for over-exercising, too.
Exercise is a form of stress to the body just like getting stuck in a traffic jam or out running a tiger (ya know, if you were just hanging out in the jungle). Stress is stress to the body- it does not know the difference between positive and negative stress when it comes to cortisol output. So a person who is exercising a healthy amount for his or her body, the stress effects of exercising are positive overall- your body can produce the cortisol and go back to baseline. But if you are also stressed out in multiple ways- you are putting too much work on your HPA axis. Stress could be from financial stress, personal stress, undereating or obsessing over your eating and exercise habits. Adding too much exercise to this equation will just add to constantly high levels of cortisol your body has to produce. This is the first stage of HPA axis dysfunction or "adrenal fatigue". Eventually, the body is unable to produce enough cortisol, not because the adrenals are fatigued, but because the hormonal cascade is not able to properly function, and this signifies later stages of HPA axis dysfuntion.
As a practitioner, I see this all the time in my clients. They have been on and off diets their entire lives and only see exercise only as a means for allowing themselves to eat and therefore force themselves to exercise daily. Eventually, HPA axis dysfunction occurs as well as other negative health consequences present themselves or worsen including digestion issues like IBS and hypothalamic amenorrhea.
How Do I Know if I am Over-Exercising?
There are many signs you are exercising too much. Signs include:
-Unable to recover quickly from exercises.
-Fatigue for the rest of the day after exercising or feeling extremely lethargic (like you got hit by a bus) the day after intense exercise.
-Increased muscle fatigue and soreness.
-You keep getting injured.
-Tired but too wired to sleep or excessively fatigued all the time.
-You force yourself to workout, even if you desperately do not want to workout.
-Decline in ability to hit a PR or your exercise capabilities continue to decline (like you used to be able to easily run 5 miles and now it feels like you are running with bricks for legs).
-You have a set number of miles you have to run each day or week, no matter what your body is telling you.
-You excessively plan your workouts, and do not allow for rest days or do not take enough rest days.
-You tell your body when it should take rest days versus allowing your body to tell you when to take rest days.
-Taking a rest day, especially an unplanned rest day, gives you anxiety.
-Anxiety when you try to not exercise on vacation or extreme anxiety at the thought of taking a complete break from exercising for a period of time.
-You make excuses for your exercise routine when confronted with questions about your exercise by loved ones or your health practitioner.
-ANY feeling of emotions that are extreme around exercise. Extreme pride or worthiness associated with exercising or ANY guilt or shame when you do not.
-Extreme hunger all the time. Now this is a tricky one- because I often find so many of my clients are undereating, but they see it as normal or even a lot of food. This is not what I am referring to. You may need to work with a dietitian to determine this particular sign.
-Worsening digestive issues.
-Menstrual cycle irregularities or lack of cycle entirely (amenorrhea).
-Loss of sex drive.
-Sick easily or frequently.
-Easily stressed or irritable.
-You start to gain weight when it "seems" like you are doing all the "right things".
-Lack of ability to build muscle.
-You only see exercise in the form of calories you've burnt for the day.
My Personal Story with Over Exercising
Personally, I have struggled with over exercising just as I have struggled in the past with disordered eating.
For years I did Jazzercise for my exercise, particularly in college and the first year or two living in Florida. I loved it, but I got bored doing the same thing all the time. And it wasn't very challenging, which was something I was craving. When we moved from Tampa to Clearwater, I decided to join a hot yoga studio instead of a Jazzercise studio. And I loved it. I was inspired by the instructors and there seemingly-limitedless energy. I thought, finally, I could have a yoga/dancer/whatever body. I did very intense cardio sessions in 100 degree heat, at least 5-6 times a week. And then I discovered weight lifting, and loved it too. I kept doing the cardio in a hot yoga studio and started lifting weights three times a week. I was doing a lot of the items listed above, prescribing myself an exercise routine, forcing myself to exercise even when my body was asking for rest, and even doing two-a-days. I look back at that time and I am so thankful I discovered yoga and weight lifting, as I've never enjoyed two forms of exercise more than those two and are still my preferred forms of exercise to this day. But I also look back now and realize how badly I was overdoing it.
One day when I was visiting my sister, she questioned me about my new workout routines. My pride in being able to handle high intensity workouts. My obsession with working out everyday and sometimes twice in one day. We both knew immediately I was over doing it when I got really defensive about it. And then I got really real with myself.
I was over-exercising.
When I realized I was having many of the symptoms above, I took some time to think about my relationship with exercise and realized I was still harboring a lot of emotions around exercise. I had healed my relationship with food, but still had fears around not exercising. I felt if I didn't exercise I would not burn enough calories that day. I realized I had allowed myself to "eat all the foods" but I had used exercise as my "reason" I was now "allowing" myself to eat enough. I realized I was also relying on caffeine so that I could have the energy to exercise in the mornings, and never asked myself if I actually wanted to work out or not. I planned my rest days instead of letting my body tell me when it wants it.
As I have become more in tuned with body and living my life intuitively, I am now thankfully intuitive with both food and exercise. My exercise has changed A LOT. I spent a lot of time redefining my relationship with exercise. I took a total and complete break from exercising for awhile. I stopped exercising in a group setting so that I wouldn't compare myself to others or try to compete with others.
These days, I lift weights 2-3 times a week if I want to. I do faster forms of yoga for cardio if I want to. Occasionally, I will do a HIIT exercise if I want to. I enjoy walking my dog in the mornings and doing a quick restorative yoga session before I meditate if I want to. I spend my nights often foam rolling and leisurely doing yin yoga while watching TV if I want to. My husband and I enjoy doing fun activities like taking the dog to the park or kayaking on the weekends if we want to. I don't force exercise- but instead focus on having more movement in my life. When I want to move in a way that's challenging, like lift weights, I do it. But I don't ever force it. I have found exercises that work for me, and know that for me hours of cardio will never be a part of my lifestyle again. I'm still protective over my intuitive exerciser- and while I plan on eventually going back to group exercising (I really want to find a yoga studio I love in St Pete!) I'm still at a point where I'm feeling best exercising by myself so I can establish concrete boundaries with myself before going back to group exercising.
Changing Your Mindset Around Exercise
Find a way to be instinctual and intuitive with your exercise.
I KNOW we are not living life like cavemen, its unrealistic to compare the two. However, when I think of my ancestors- even back to 100 years ago I imagine they probably walked a lot, did basic forms of movement like squatting daily, sometimes lifted heavy things and sometimes needed to perform acts that would be considered cardio or HIIT exercise in today's world. Rarely, I think did they ever run miles on a daily basis or do intense forms of exercise of what we would consider high intensity every. single. day.
I urge you to stop thinking about exercise as a way to manipulate your body or a way to burn more calories. Stop thinking that your body hates you, and instead do actions on a daily basis that show your body how much you love it. If needed, take a complete and total break from exercising especially if you have lost your menstrual cycle. Find new ways to relax your mind, give yourself endorphins or deal with your stress levels. When your body has healed, introduce exercise back into your life with a more mindful approach. Ask your body what it wants rather than telling it what it should do.
Exercise should give you energy, not take it from you. It's a great way to reduce stress, but it shouldn't be your only coping mechanism for stress in your life. Exercise is obviously known for health benefits, but you don't have to exercise excessively to get those health benefits. Exercise should be part of your self care routine, but it shouldn't be the only form of self care you give yourself. Exercise should be intuitive, not forced. You should be able to take breaks from exercise if that is what your body is asking. Exercise should add happiness to your life, not take away from it.
Do you need help determining if you are exercising too much?
Realistically, if you are reading this and questioning if you are exercising too much...you very likely are. No worries, we are here to support you at Nourishing Minds Nutrition. If you have any of the above signs of over exercising and you have health issues like possible adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalance or lack of menstrual cycle, worsening digestive issues, you are gaining weight or losing weight rapidly without trying (both can occur depending on the person) I encourage you to reach out for help.
Tell me: How do you feel about your current exercise routine?