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How Much Exercise Is Too Much?

September 01, 2021

Sure, the benefits of regular exercise are well-known, but is there such a thing as too much exercise?

The short answer is yes. Spending too much time exercising can create problems like those experienced by people who don’t do regular physical activity. High-intensity workouts for prolonged periods of time can damage your heart and lead to serious problems down the road.

Proper Amount of Exercise

Adults should do 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise each week to maintain good health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Kids ages 6 to 17 should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

That might sound like a lot, but think of it in smaller increments. If you’re an adult, for example, maybe 30 minutes a day five times each week would fit into your schedule.

You don’t need to hire a personal trainer or even pay for a gym membership to get effective aerobic exercise. Brisk walking, dancing, yoga, bicycling or jogging around the neighborhood are easy ways to accomplish your goals.

Find an exercise buddy or a small group of friends to keep you motivated and help one another stick to a routine.

The Benefits

  • Healthier heart and cardiovascular system
  • Decreased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Reduced stress, anxiety and depression
  • Lower risk of obesity and diabetes
  • Improved brain function
  • Longer life expectancy
  • Better quality of sleep

Signs That You’re Overdoing It

How much is too much? There’s no right answer to this question, so everyone needs to be aware of their own limits when figuring out the right amount of exercise. This varies from one person to the next based on factors such as age, fitness, endurance and heart health.

Runners and athletes in particular need to be careful not to overdo things. Here are some signs of excessive physical activity:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling burned out
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Sore muscles or heavy limbs
  • Injuries from overuse

Other less visible trouble signs include changes in bone density and your triglyceride and cholesterol levels. That’s why it’s important to include bloodwork in your annual physical exams.

Many hours of prolonged, intense physical activity every week can put too much stress on the heart, causing structural changes in the cardiovascular system and leading to damage in the long term. In extreme cases, continual stress on the heart can result in sudden death.

Athlete’s heart is a condition marked by increased cardiac mass — to put it simply, an enlarged heart. It’s most common in those who regularly do more than one hour of high-intensity exercise a day. Symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, irregular heartbeat and fluid retention.

Fibrosis — cardiac scarring that damages cells and tissue, and impedes the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently — can be another product of too much exercise.

Changes in the heart’s electrical system can lead to conditions such as atrial fibrillation — also known as AFib — which is an irregular, often chaotic heartbeat that can cause more serious problems such as blood clots and stroke.

Striking a Balance

Heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality worldwide, at 16 percent, according to the World Health Organization. That’s followed by stroke at 11 percent and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at 6 percent.

In the United States, the CDC reported about 660,000 deaths from heart disease in 2019.

The American Heart Association recommends a workout strategy that includes all four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.

Keep in mind that the best exercises are the ones you enjoy. If exercising becomes a chore, it’s far easier to make excuses to avoid it.

If you’re just getting started, talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine and set realistic goals.


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