The Exercise Balance

What's Too Much, What's Too Little, and What's Just Right for You!

by Pauline Powers & Ron Thompson

Am I Overexercising?

Excerpt from The Exercise Balance

The first step in determining whether or not you are exercising too much is to take an honest and objective look at your life. Ask yourself if your routine negatively impacts your physical, emotional, or psychological health. Does it interfere with everyday activities such as school, work, or relationships? If so, you are probably overexercising and need to modify your regimen as well as your attitude. Other indicators include exercise that occurs at inappropriate times or settings or continues despite injury or other medical complications. For example, if you absolutely must exercise even if your children need your attention, then your routine is inappropriate. If you have an injured knee and your doctor advises you not to run until it heals but you continue to run anyway, you are being driven by unhealthy psychological forces. The relevant issue here is not how much one exercises but the appropriateness of the given situation.

Another way to think about overexercise is within the framework of energy balance, which occurs when the calories consumed equal the energy expended. With so much emphasis on the health problems associated with being overweight or obese, we sometimes forget that being undernourished or underweight is also unhealthy. Many people mistakenly believe that a person can neither be too thin nor have a body-fat ratio that is too low. In reality, this is not the case. An example of imbalance would be the use of physical activity to achieve an energy deficit that results in weight loss. Sometimes this is appropriate behavior—a temporary and slight increase in exercise or a reduction in calorie intake is acceptable if one needs to lose weight for health purposes. On the other hand, if an individual is at a normal or low weight and has a normal body composition, an energy deficit is inappropriate.

Of course there are exceptions. One example would be a recruit in boot camp who needs to increase muscle mass over fat mass. Another example might be an elite athlete in training who needs a sport-specific body size and/or composition and mix of energy stores. Yet another might be a person suffering from osteoarthritis or stiff joints. In this case, a slight increase in muscle mass combined with a slightly lower-than-normal body weight might help increase one's mobility, as long as she is monitored by her health care practitioners.