Exercising is one of the most beneficial activities you can engage in for your mental and physical well-being. Yet modern science has confirmed what has been taught in the holistic science of Ayurveda for thousands of years: too much exercise can actually be harmful to your health.
In moderation, physical activity can reduce stress, improve your sleep, tone your muscles, increase cardiovascular health, ward off disease, improve blood sugar, lower blood pressure, boost mood and cognitive health, and reduce excess body fat.
Yet just as drinking too much water can be harmful (or fatal), exercising excessively can also reap negative consequences, such as:
- Chronically elevating the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes disease and undermines your physical and mental well being
- Raising the risk of injuries
- Weakening your immune system
- Leaving you feeling fatigued and moody
Over-Exercise and Cardiovascular Health
Ironically, one of the most serious health problems over-exercise can trigger is one that most athletes are expecting to avoid: cardiovascular disease. While moderate exercise greatly improves the health of the cardiovascular system and significantly reduces the risk of heart attacks or heart dysfunction, extreme exercise substantially elevates this risk.
Multiple studies have found that excessive exercise (such as running a marathon) can elevate the risk of a heart attack by as much as seven hundred percent. Endurance athletes are prone to scarring of the heart tissue and other heart dysfunction, as well as inflammation.
While running one marathon is unlikely to cause any long term damage, exercising at high intensity or for long periods of time over the years may cause permanent cardiovascular damage.
How Much Exercise is Too Much?
Just as with any general health guideline, recommendations on exercise should be taken in relation to each individual’s age and fitness level. For example, what is moderate exercise for one person may be excessive and unhealthy for another. Very high intensity and extended duration of exercise both have the potential to cause damage to your body, especially as a person reaches middle age and beyond.
While general guidelines suggest over an hour a day of exercise may be too much, it’s important to be conscious of how you feel and how your body is responding to your exercise routine. Here are some warning signs that it may be time to scale back on your current workout regimen:
- Less motivated to workout
- Feeling sore longer than two or three days after exercising
- Getting sick frequently or staying sick longer than normal
- Feeling tired and irritable
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Experiencing injury
- Decrease in exercise performance
How Yoga Asanas Can Help Prevent Over-Exercise
Performed correctly, yoga asanas can help you to tune into your body’s needs and limits so that you are more aware of what is actually beneficial and what may be harmful. For example, many people who practice yoga asanas find that they are naturally inclined to eat more healthful foods, simply because they are more in touch with their physical needs.
Similarly, yoga asanas can help you get a better sense of how exercise is actually affecting your health. Practiced even once or twice a week, yoga asanas can also help bring balance and harmony to your exercise regimen.