Too Much of a Good Thing?

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Anyone who loves their preferred form(s) of exercise understands that the long term benefits go well beyond just being stronger, fitter, or looking better. Exercise can immediately make us happier and more energetic.  Exercise is a great coping mechanism to help balance the drama of life.  We are usually much more pleasant to be around after a good work-out since it’s much harder to stress when the body and mind are coasting on a post-exercise endorphin rush!  Regular physical movement keeps the joints lubricated, encourages deeper and fuller breathing, and brings more oxygen to our tissues by moving blood.  Moving blood allows the body to flush out metabolic wastes and improves circulation.  This is all pretty obvious.  The benefits of exercise are undeniable.

However, there is such a thing as too much exercise. Just like one can be too “healthy” (chronically eating too many raw vegetables: your digestion and energy levels will not appreciate this; or being too uptight and stressed about being healthy), chronic excessive exercise can also deplete the body and do more harm than good.  Bottom line: exercise is indeed a form of stress so more does not always equal better.

This is especially relevant for women and our sensitive and complex endocrine system. Because the body is beautifully designed for survival first, the reproductive system receives the least attention when energy reserves are low.  Precious Yin is depleted with excessive Yang activities, like intense physical exercise, particularly when there is extreme sweating or loss of body fluids.

Each woman processes the physical stress of exercise differently. We each have our own tolerance threshold.  Different bodies will respond differently to various types of exercise. So, how do we know when we are reaping the benefits of exercise as opposed to experiencing the opposite?  Here are some symptoms to notice:

  • Your menstrual cycle becomes irregular.
    • This can be common in women athletes, a phenomenon that suggests too much energy is going out of the body and there is not enough replacing it.  Proper nutrition is very important here. As is slowing down and consolidating.
  • The mind will not relax at night.
    • Exercise can be great at calming the nervous system but too much can backfire and have the opposite effect.  The result is sleep deprivation and anxiety.
  • There is fatigue and exhaustion after your workout, difficulty focusing, or sugar/caffeine cravings.
    • These cravings only mean something in your body is depleted. Rest.
  • The body hurts or recovery time is more prolonged than normal.
    • We usually don’t feel pain during exercise because of the adrenaline or endorphin release.  Only when we slow down and FEEL, are the signs of too much wear and tear noticeable.  These pains will only grow louder.  Listen to them.
  • There is a higher frequency of colds or flues.
    • Stress, or excessive exercise, can dramatically alter immune function.  Anytime you do too much for you, immune cell function is reduced.

Health, youth, beauty, and reproductive function fade when you burn the candle at both ends.  Moderation and balance are key principles of Chinese medicine theory.  Most of us intrinsically understand this concept but are only mildly successful at it. Just because the body is capable of pushing limits does not mean that one has to do it daily.  Daily stresses like traffic, work, familial and personal relationships are plenty enough for the average individual to deal with.

Disease (dis-ease) can start from many places.  If diet and emotional attitude are reasonably balanced then one can suspect that the issue lies in the lifestyle.  The challenge is to listen to the cues, subtle or otherwise, that indicate we might be depleting the energy bank, with our “healthy” exercise routine.