How Much Exercise Is Too Much Exercise?

by Edie Horstman

Exercise as a Form of Self-Care

Without a doubt, regular exercise is one of the most important components to a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. Along with the physical benefits, movement is also a form of therapy, emotional release and spiritual growth. It is an opportunity to disconnect from life’s daily stressors and responsibilities — and a quick, effective workout goes a long way. After all, it’s not about spending hours pounding the pavement. Rather, it’s about carving out an efficient amount of time to move your body. Whether it be 10 minutes or an hour, routine movement is a powerful form of self-care.

Benefiting the Body and the Brain

Exercise is the gateway to building lean muscle mass, supporting a healthy cardiovascular system and naturally detoxing the body. But finding movement that fits your lifestyle and fitness goals is key. Between high-intensity interval training, spinning, yoga, pilates, kickboxing, skiing, kayaking, swimming and more, your options are endless. However, being active isn’t just about the exercise. It’s also about building community, honing in on your passions and spending time doing something you enjoy. Because while exercise can maximize fat loss, help maintain strong bones and reduce your risk of chronic disease, the mental results are equally important.

Movement provides an endorphin release, which can produce mental clarity, a significant mood boost and a useful surge of energy. Additionally, regular exercise can have a significant impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, re-sets your circadian rhythm, and boosts your overall mood. That said, there is such thing as too little — or too much — exercise. Over-exercising can be just as detrimental as being sedentary. The goal is to discover fun, effective ways to move your body. By incorporating mindful, intuitive movement, you’ll view exercise as a privilege instead of a chore.

When Too Much Exercise Becomes Unhealthy

For some of us, taking a rest day (or two) during the week is harder said than done. After all, exercise addiction is real. It can be the sole reason why people feel guilty if they miss a training day. Typically, exercise addiction starts with a desire for a particular physique. However, an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, may also lead to an unhealthy obsession with exercise. Unfortunately, body image dysmorphia typically manifests itself in spending an obsessive amount of time at the gym — despite having low energy levels, being improperly fueled, etc.

Recent research suggests that there may be a point at which large volumes of exercise begins harming our health instead of improving it — especially for women’s hormones. For example, while a regular exercise routine is highly effective for boosting longevity and cardiovascular health, long-term endurance exercise has been linked with pathologic structural remodeling of the heart, enlarged arteries and an increase in anxiety and depression. Plus, too much exercise can lead to a suppressed immune system and sleep irregularities.

Taking a break from your workout routine (whether on a weekly or monthly basis) is crucial for repairing and rejuvenating your body and mind. While movement is simultaneously damaging your muscle fibers and creating mini tears in them, it is also what allows for building muscle in the long run. That said, it’s imperative to allow for recovery time. Proper recovery — including nutrition and sleep — helps build healthy, strong and injury-free muscles.

How Much Exercise Is Sufficient?

As you can imagine, there’s no universal answer. Depending on your goals, the amount and intensity will vary. However, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise three to five days per week. If you’re new to exercising, take it slow. Start with two workout days per week and build from there. On your rest days, remember that light stretching and walking are still recommended; not only do they keep soreness at bay, but they also help circulate new blood. Ultimately, as your fitness level improves the fewer rest days you’ll likely need. Figuring out the right amount of exercise — for this particular season of your life — takes practice, but forgoing rest days can ultimately lead to injuries and burn out.

Edie Horstman is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, wellness blogger, and freelance writer. She works with health-focused brands, co-creating content in the digital marketing space. She lives in Denver, Colorado.