It’s well known that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for your health. It puts you at a higher risk for developing a range of medical conditions, from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and even certain cancers. But what about the opposite end of the spectrum – can too much exercise and extreme workouts be just as bad for your health?
"If you’re ramping up a new exercise routine too quickly after years of inactivity or pushing your body beyond its limits during every workout, you may be doing more harm than good," said Geisinger Community Medical Center orthopaedic surgeon Shazad Shaikh, M.D.
Exercise-related injuries and health issues
If you’ve committed to an exercise routine or resolution, it’s tempting to want results fast. Extreme workouts that promise remarkable results feed into this desire. Keep in mind, however, that your commitment should be for a lifetime and not only to reach a temporary goal. Doing too much too soon, especially if you don’t have a fitness foundation to build on, is a sure way to hurt yourself.
"Among the most common exercise-related problems are overuse injuries such as tendonitis, which affects beginners and veteran exercisers alike," said Dr. Shaikh. "Tendonitis happens when a cord-like band of tissue that connects muscles to bones become inflamed, injured or suffer microscopic tears."
This usually happens when you repeat the same motion over and over again, such as when you run, or when you increase the load on a muscle through weightlifting too much too soon.
Another potential injury from extreme workouts is a condition called rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo. Rhabdo happens when skeletal muscle breaks down rapidly if pushed too hard. The symptoms are painful and unpleasant, including extreme muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, confusion and tea-colored urine.
If you’re pursing endurance sports like running, keep in mind that moderation is the key. Research has shown that running more than 35 miles per week may put you at higher risk for heart-related problems such as arteriosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart disease.
Advice to make the most of your exercise routine
If you’re starting a new exercise regimen or increasing the intensity of your existing workouts, follow these guidelines to maximize your benefit while minimizing your risk.
- Start slow: Add time and intensity to your workout in increments. A good rule of thumb is to add no more than 10 percent per week. For example, if you’re currently able to run 10 miles per week, set your limit at 11 miles for the following week.
- Focus on your core: While it’s tempting to build muscle where it’s noticeable, like your arms, don’t forget your core. Ensuring that you have a strong abdominal and back muscles will keep you stable and help you avoid injury.
- Modify your activity: Work with your current fitness and any injury issues. If you’re not able to do a certain exercise movement, build up to it. For example, start doing pushups on your knees to build your strength, or set the resistance level on your stationary bike at the lowest level.
- Stop if it hurts: It’s never a good idea to push through an injury. If you feel any pain, stop the exercise immediately. It’s better to miss the rest of your workout than to risk an injury that could sideline you for months.
"Always remember to take a rest day every week," said Dr. Shaikh. "Your body needs time to recover, and a smart workout routine will have scheduled rest days to give you time to heal and rebuild."