Physical fitness is good for you. So lots of it must be really good? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults participate in 150 minutes of exercise a week. The ACSM is a reputable organization and suggests that spending 1.5% of the week exercising will reduce disease and increase positive moods. Hmmm…. 3% of my week or 5 hours must double the benefits… perhaps it is possible to find 2.5 hours a day to exercise, 10% of the week, happiness, health, long life is most sure to follow! Not so fast…
Moderate Exercise is Great… Heavy Exercise Risks Illness
Regular exercise has shown to have a positive impact on the immune system and risk of disease. Differently, regular heavy training loads combined can compromise immune system function. In essence, fit behaviors inoculate a body a bit more against illness… unless they are done in excess in which case they can increase risk of disease. It is important to recognize when actions that are meant to add to your health are actually compromising it.
Heavy Training Loads without Rest = Poor Mind, Poor Body, Poor Performance
For decades, John Raglin of Indiana University has been studying overtraining syndrome. It is a real phenomenon and one that highlights the importance of light or no workouts. Many people adopt aggressive exercise behaviors in efforts to maximize fitness gains. Without properly managing the balance between workload and recovery time, the only things maximized are nagging muscle soreness, insomnia, emotional irritability, depressive symptoms, athletic performance declines, and injuries. Excessive exercise can take both the body and mind out of balance. Rest can be both prevention of and treatment for over-exercise.
The challenge is that each person has a slightly different threshold for what is “moderate exercise.” Ultimately, a thoughtful approach to exercise behaviors is important. Fitness routines should be both enjoyable and energizing. When they become an obligation or displays of excess it is important to step back to re-plan and regain perspective. When Ayn Rand said, “If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.” Exercise must not have been her focus. Live well, exercise vigorously… but remember enough is enough.
Dr. Adam Naylor leads Telos Sport Psychology Consulting and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Boston University’s School of Education. He has a decade and a half of experiences working with professional through amateur athletes – of note: US Open competitors, NCAA champions, Olympians, Stanley Cup winners, and UFC martial artists. Beyond sports, over the past five years he has served as a corporate performance and wellness consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ahnaylor.