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Updated: February 17, 2013 16:08 IST

Don’t overdo it

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Read the body's signals. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
The Hindu
Read the body's signals. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Exercising may not always do you good, especially if you’re doing more than you should.

While there is a growing concern over obesity and all the health complications that accompany it, few people look at the other side of the coin. Did you know that there could be health complications resulting from over-exercising? Yes, most people need to exercise, but there are some who push it beyond their body’s tolerance threshold, leading to adverse effects, in the long run. Once a person develops an understanding of the body and connects with it striking the right balance is not a problem.

Maria hits the gym by around 8.30 a.m. after dropping her son at school. She is on a sabbatical and has all the time in the world. She also wants to shed all the weight she has accumulated over the working years. Now she hits the gym with a vengeance and makes the best use of her time at the gym. She is so focussed on losing weight that she begins to push herself further when she registers a 4kg loss in a month. Even more motivated, she starts pushing it further and her one- hour workout slowly becomes 90 minutes. Maria is determined to lose one kg a week, and to see that happen extends her workout to two hours. In the process, she ignores advice from the trainers who warn her about the ill effects of overdoing exercise. Exercising can sometimes become addictive due to the physiological effects of endorphin, a hormone that makes one happy and more due to the psychological and positive physical effects.

How do you know if you are over- training? The body is constantly communicating with you so all one needs to do is to learn to read its signals. If you feel energetic and charged after a workout session, you know you are doing something right. On the contrary, if you feel drained or fatigued, the body is hinting that it needs a rest.

When we stop listening to our body and start thinking more is better, that is when the problem begins. There are four basic components that go in planning a workout schedule: exercise type, intensity, frequency and duration. As a rule of thumb, change/increase one component at a time and follow that schedule for a couple of weeks. But an over-enthusiastic person may increase two or more components at the same time leading to stress on the body.

It is relatively easy to guess if you are over-training. If you’re hitting the snooze button often or having trouble sleeping and feeling exhausted throughout the day are two crucial signs. As important as it is to stimulate muscle building with hard exercise, it is equally important to recover with rest until the muscle is no longer sore. Rhabdomyolysis means a rapid breakage of muscle tissue. This can be a genetic problem or caused by a severe blow/fall. But one important often-ignored cause is high intensity weight training.

Over-training also leads to a plateauing of weight loss. The body starts conserving energy instead of expending. So even when you are burning more calories, it does not mean you are losing fat weight; you are only losing glycogen and precious muscle tissue. And that persistent joint ache cannot be pushed off as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which usually goes away in a couple of days. This continuous pain either indicates poor technique or over-training.

For women, over-training has quite a few adverse effects. Agreed, resistance training is good as it improves bone density and prevents osteoporosis. But intense weight training, regardless of the nutritional supplements, actually leads to a loss in bone density. Invariably there is also deficiency of vitamin D3 and low haemoglobin. Over-training elevates cortisol levels, the body’s stress hormone, thereby lowering the oestrogen and progesterone levels. This imbalance is similar to the post-menopausal state but, when it occurs at a younger age, it causes complications like amenorrhoea (absence of menstrual cycles during the reproductive years) and oligomenorrhoea (menstrual cycles between 35-90 days).

Start listening to your body and take note of the aches and pains. If taking a break from exercising seems impossible, at least opt for some mind and body workouts like tai chi and yoga, which will lift energy levels and also heal the body


Has your weight loss regimen gone too far?August 18, 2010

How much is too much?October 13, 2012

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