Can You Exercise Too Much?

April 25, 2011

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exercise too muchYou may have heard of a recent British study that asked the question, “Can you exercise too much?” It’s an interesting topic and – like anything else – yes, it appears even exercise, when taken to the extreme, can be too much of a good thing.

In the study. researchers found that super-athletic men in their 50s who had exercised strenuously all their lives (we’re talking about former Olympic athletes and ultra-marathon types) actually seemed to have heart damage as a result.

However, I have a feeling there are very few people with a weight problem who fit into this category, so before one takes the leap that this study means starting an exercise routine could be bad for them, too, I’d like to suggest the opposite.

For the most part, the patients I see in my clinic report that they don’t really like to exercise and that they’ve never considered themselves athletic. Perhaps they had a bad experience with team sports early in childhood, or pushed themselves to do the latest exercise craze when they didn’t really enjoy it. Whatever the reason, they tend to say they’d rather do almost anything but exercise.

Sometimes, a patient will report that at one time they were very athletic and that something in their life changed that prevented them from continuing to be active: the birth of a child, a sports injury, getting a “desk job” after college, or some other reason. These people often say they miss physical activity but feel that “those days are over” for them.

In both cases I encourage my patients to give physical activity another try. They key is to start where you are and to gradually work up to where you want to be. Any movement is better than no movement – even five minutes if that’s what you can do comfortably.

Exercise alone won’t necessarily lead to weight loss (you’ll need to cut calorie intake, too) but it will make losing weight easier as lean muscle builds and boosts your metabolism, burning more calories 24 hours a day. And where being more active will really pay off is in helping to keep the weight you’ve lost from coming back over the long run.

Another important component to being active is to find an activity that you personally enjoy. Something that doesn’t “feel” like exercise, but like fun! That might be walking, biking, swimming, dance, yoga, joining a community sports team, roller skating, interactive video games, or even just taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away in parking lots, and carrying groceries in one bag at a time.

I can guarantee if you choose a form of exercise you dread or that makes you feel self-conscious or awkward, it won’t last. So why make yourself miserable and set yourself up for failure?

And lastly there is one nugget of wisdom to take from this study: Be moderate. Don’t push yourself to exercise for hours on end or to a level where you feel like you couldn’t do one more thing. Aim for the middle road instead where you get your heart pumping but you end your workout feeling better, not worse, than when you started.

Chances are, if you give it a few weeks, the positive benefits of being active – like an increased energy level and reduced stress level – will be so worth it that you’ll gladly stick with your new habit. So don’t use this study as an excuse not to get moving. Get going today!

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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[…] Did you know that it’s possible to work out too hard? […]

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