Daily exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body. It increases balance, speed, strength, self-confidence, heart health and so many other things. However, even with all of the benefits that exercise can provide, too much of it can actually be a bad thing.

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Some people have an “obsession for perfection,” putting too much pressure on themselves to look perfect or demanding too much from their body to look their best. Exercising becomes more than a daily activity to keep healthy, and instead turns into overtraining, over criticizing and too many hours spent at the gym.

Chris Kesser, a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine, said in his article, “Why You May Need to Exercise Less” that, “engaging in these physically demanding activities too regularly or too intensely can contribute to many different symptoms of overtraining.”

Kesser also mentions how some high-intensity exercises can end up pushing your body’s stress response too far, “leading to a cascade of biochemical responses that can cause serious damage to one’s health in both the short and long term.” Blood levels of vital neurotransmitters, such as glutamine, dopamine and 5-HTP can be negatively impacted in people who overtrain, leading to feelings of depression and chronic fatigue. Hypothyroidism can also be a result of the stress caused by extreme exercise,  leading to depression, weight gain and digestive dysfunction.

If these symptoms were not enough to make you want to take a day off here an there, another major affect of excessive exercise is an immediate increase in cortisol, the hormone released when we are under stress. According to Kesser, “heavy-resistance exercises are found to stimulate markedly acute cortisol responses, similar to the responses found in marathon training.” Consistently high levels of cortisol can cause sleep disturbances, digestive issues, depression, weight gain, memory impairment and an increase in abdominal fat.

Still feeling like achieving your idea of the perfect body is worth the risk? Believe us, it’s not. Overtraining has also been linked to immune system disorders, changing natural killer cell activity and increasing activation of peripheral blood lymphocytes. Meaning that a body that is able to properly function without issues, when put through the stress of overtraining, can and often will, begin to develop autoimmune disorders.

In addition to these health issues, over training can cause you to feel rundown, lose muscle mass and take a seriously negative toll on your self confidence. These issues can all negatively affect your fitness and health goals, leave you prone to infections and colds and lead to a loss of motivation.

This doesn’t mean you should stop working out, but it does mean that you should know your limits. Here are a few tips from Kesser to keep on a healthy track to fitness and off the road to exhaustion and overtraining: Click here for more info on how to prevent exhaustion. 

1.)  Reduce the frequency of high stress exercise to two or three times a week.

2.)  Get enough rest to allow sufficient recovery.

3.)  Mix up your workouts and add in exercises that reduce cortisol levels, such as yoga.

4.)  Eat (healthy) carbohydrates early in the day.

Physical activity should be a part of everyone’s daily routine, but you don’t need to be at the gym for half the day doing high-intensity workouts to reap the benefits of exercise. Working out should be fun and it should be a way to reduce your stress, not add to it.  We all have goals when it comes to our fitness and an idea of what “perfect” looks like, but learning to love the body you’re in and working to make it healthier, not perfect, will do you better in the long run than chasing after a dream that may truly only exist, airbrushed in a magazine.