How Much Exercise is Too Much for Weight Loss?
By Lisa Payne, CPT
The journey to weight loss is a personal one. It takes self-confidence, challenging workouts and a time commitment. Establishing an individualized fitness and nutrition plan with a certified fitness professional or health practitioner is essential to identifying a proper weight loss diet, workout routine, and the right amount of exercise for long-lasting results.
While there is no cookie-cutter amount of exercise to help achieve a designated amount of weight loss, quality over quantity is key. When an individual is overweight, obese or morbidly obese and it reduces the health and quality of life of that individual, there’s often a desire to lose weight as fast as possible. This can lead to thinking that more is better when it comes to working out—that over-exercising beyond the advised amount could expedite the weight loss process.
Overtraining can also stem from a fear of gaining weight back once a person hits his or her goal weight. In reality, more exercise won’t always help the individual maintain a certain weight, and could even have the opposite effect. Doing an unhealthy amount of exercise can lead to overtraining syndrome (OTS) as well as other health conditions.
When the human body has reached or exceeded its physical limit, it’s imperative to have adequate rest and recovery elements like gym days off, stretching or taking Epsom salt baths. Without it, the body begins to break down. Even elite athletes recognize the body’s need for workout fuel like protein bars or protein shakes along with balanced training programs to provide the ultimate in performance and to continue on to live a healthy life in the future. Individual needs and safe, pragmatic training programs evolve together over time to prevent weight gain, disease and OTS.
What Is OTS?
Overtraining syndrome is the point at which the human body has reached an unhealthy level of exercise causing enough stress to the body that it begins to break itself down in one or more ways. OTS symptoms often present themselves in the immune system, endocrine system, muscular system and even the neurological system. Symptoms sometimes include, but are not limited to:
- Mood fluctuations
- Sleep difficulties
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Joint inflammation
- Eating disorders
- Muscle pain, stiffness and soreness
- Cognitive fog
- Lowered immune function
Chronic stress on the body from too much exercise on top of day-to-day stress may also lead to hormonal fluctuations. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and help to regulate the metabolism, immune system, stress response and other bodily functions. While some physicians say there is a lack of scientific evidence that adrenal fatigue is in fact a real condition, others conclude that it very much is. When the body is chronically stressed, it’s suggested that adrenal fatigue may produce symptoms including sleeplessness, body aches, fatigue, sugar cravings, depression, digestive issues and other complaints.
Over-exercising and Stress Response
Whether it’s physical, emotional or both, the human body reacts to stress in very different ways. In times of chronic stress, three hormones are released: corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol. When the body perceives it’s in danger, it releases CRH, which triggers the release of ACTH and thusly, cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone that acts as a watchdog for danger, moderates mood, keeps inflammation down, controls sleep and increases energy. Too much cortisol in the body can lead to a condition called Cushing Syndrome. This condition can lead to weight gain, muscle insufficiency, diabetes and other health conditions.
Combining day-to-day life stress with long-term over-exercising can trigger the body’s stress response, instigating a hormonal imbalance and inflammation. This can prevent the individual from losing weight or maintaining weight loss, and also increase the chances of developing an illness or severe health condition.
To lose weight or to maintain it more safely, it’s recommended to follow a balanced diet with healthy meals as well as pre- and post-workout foods such as fruit, nuts or a recovery formula. Follow a fitness plan that’s specifically prescribed for you by a certified fitness professional or health practitioner. As the program progresses, have checkpoints to establish continued success in creating steps that are achievable and won’t lead to an unhealthy diet or exercise habits. However, if there are signs of OTS or adrenal fatigue, always consult a physician to determine the best course of action.
In the meantime, here are some suggested daily health tips to try while getting to know the body’s needs and limits:
- Get 8-9 hours of quality sleep every night.
- Drink 8-10 glasses of water each day. Increase water and/or electrolyte intake on intense workout days and as the weather gets warmer.
- Eliminate or limit alcohol, sugar, processed foods and saturated fats.
- Take rest days.
- Maintain a diet of lean proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
- Manage digestive health with fiber. Include probiotics as recommended by a healthcare practitioner.
- Practice stress management and mindfulness through yoga, meditation or talk therapy.
- Reduce inflammation and muscle soreness with Epsom salt baths, acupuncture, massage therapy or foam rolling.
- Boost immune health by eating a balanced diet which includes adequate amounts of vitamin C, vitamin B and vitamin D.
- Wear a heart rate monitor, to monitor workout intensity.
- Schedule an annual medical physical.
With a regimented workout plan, exercise should feel challenging but not overwhelming. Quality fitness plans progress so that the individual can consistently see and feel results without being put to exhaustion. More activity doesn’t always guarantee more results.
Keep in mind that rest days are as productive as the workouts themselves. The better the recovery, the better the results. The better the results, the longer they will last.