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The Ideal Amount of Physical Activity

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

You probably knew it’s possible to obtain too scant exercise. But did you know it’s possible to attain too much? Yep. “Everyday movement and exercise are a positive thing, but it’s feasible to overdo it and truly obstruct your fitness aspirations, causing more harm than good to your body,” affirms Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S. , a potency and conditioning expert and founder of Training2xl.

But how much exercise is excessive, how little is inadequate, and how do you discern when you’ve discovered your ideal point? All that, below.

Are You Obtaining “Too Little” Exercise?

You can refer to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendations to gauge how much exercise you necessitate for general health (otherwise known as the minimum amount of exercise you should receive per week). For adults ages 18 to 64, the HHS prescribes at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. (As a refresher: You can utilize the talk test to assess your intensity. During moderate aerobic activity, you can still converse but will be breathing hard. During vigorous aerobic exercise, you won’t be capable of conversing much at all.) They also promote engaging in workouts that enhance your equilibrium and construct muscular strength two or more times per week.

Total up your weekly activity and comprehend you’re receiving less than the recommended amount? You’re in good company: Almost 80 percent of adults fail to meet the HSS’s weekly minimum aerobic and strength work criteria, according to the government agency. But that doesn’t grant you a unrestricted permit to remain sedentary! Attempt appending 10 minutes of movement to your timetable every day (such as this kettlebell abs workout or this interval workout.)

Determining Your “Just Right” Quantity of Exercise

If you’re already a regular gym-goer, the HSS recommendation might sound low to you. Once again, those are the minimum recommended amounts of activity. “The HSS acknowledges that even more exercise comes with even more health benefits,” says exercise physiologist Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., host of the All About Fitness Podcast”.

And, if you possess a distinct objective — for instance, shed pounds, enhance your strength, improve your performance in a specific athletic activity — you’ll probably need to engage in physical activity more frequently than that, he affirms.

For instance, a 2009 investigation published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise discovered that, while 150 to 250 minutes of physical activity per week can produce modest weight-loss effects, individuals needed more than 250 minutes per week and a restricted diet to observe more significant outcomes. (The investigation focused on individuals who consumed 1,200-2,000 calories per day.) In practical terms, this entails exercising for one hour, five days a week.

Similarly, though participating in two days a week of general strength work will support muscle growth, in order to attain maximum muscle-building potential, it is necessary to concentrate on training each muscle group twice a week, according to a 2016 analysis in Sports Medicine. This likely involves strength training four to five times a week and dividing it by muscle group (such as a bodybuilding exercise plan) or ensuring that every single muscle group is targeted during total-body strength sessions.

Aside from the HSS recommendations, determining the optimal amount of exercise for you requires considering your fitness objectives, training experience, nutritional practices, stress levels, sleep routine, and training intensity, according to Luciani. “A sound training schedule takes all these factors into account,” she states. (For instance: Here’s how to construct the perfect exercise plan to build muscle or for weight reduction.)

Can You Work Out “Excessively?”

The answer is affirmative. When it comes to exercise, you may believe that more is always preferable, but that’s simply not accurate. “If you work out excessively for weeks or months on end, you expose your body to the risk of overtraining syndrome,” says Luciani.

Overtraining syn-huh? When you engage in exercise, you’re essentially breaking down your muscle fibers. Normally, this is beneficial because when the body repairs and rebuilds them, you become stronger than before. However, for the repair process to occur, you need sufficient sleep, nutrition, rest, and recovery, says Luciani. Failing to provide your body with these necessities interferes with its ability to become stronger. “If you consistently obstruct your body’s rebuilding process from the damage caused by previous workouts, you subject your body to a state of chronic stress, referred to as overtraining syndrome,” she explains.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Excessive Exercise

Sadly, there’s no way to provide a qualitative response to the question “how much exercise is excessive?” because there are too many factors in the equation (once again: nutrition, stress, intensity, age, etc.), explains Luciani. However, there are typical indicators associated with the condition that you can be mindful of:

You’ve Reached a Plateau

The reality is, attending the gym excessively can hinder progress towards your fitness goals. “No matter if you’re striving to shed pounds, enhance your strength, power, or speed, overtraining syndrome will impede your progress,” states Luciani. That’s because your body is not adequately recuperating between sessions.

Your Fitness Level is Declining

At a certain point, overtraining will not only keep you at a standstill, but it will also push you further away from your objectives. “If your muscles are constantly breaking down and never given the chance to regenerate, you will grow weaker,” explains Luciani. Remember: Your muscles grow larger and stronger when you’re not at the gym, rather than when you’re actually there. (

You’re Gaining Weight

When you experience overtraining syndrome, your body is in a constant state of stress. This disrupts your stress hormone (cortisol), which interferes with your metabolism and can lead to weight gain.

Your Muscles are Extremely Sore

Undoubtedly, muscle soreness a day or two after an intense workout is normal. But three, four, five, or six days later? No. “Persistent muscle soreness is an indication that your body isn’t properly recovering or repairing the damage,” explains Luciani. So next time you struggle to climb the stairs, consider the timing of your most recent leg day.

You’re Moodily AF

“Overtraining syndrome can significantly impact your mental wellbeing. It can drain your motivation, make you irritable, hostile, grumpy, despondent, anxious, depressed, and a variety of other not-so-enjoyable changes in mood,” says Luciani. Of course, there are numerous causes for alterations in personality, emotions, and mental state, so if you’re feeling off, consult a mental healthcare provider before jumping to conclusions.

Your Sleep Quality is Subpar

You would assume that the more you exercise, the easier it would be to fall asleep.

Typically, that assertion holds veracity! However, indulge excessively in physical activity and your slumber caliber diminishes considerably. “That arises owing to the malfunction of your parasympathetic nervous system [which undertakes the task of overseeing the body’s relaxation and digestive processes, commonly understood as the opposite of the fight-or-flight response], leading to elevated cortisol levels that are customarily at their lowest prior to sleep,” affirms McCall.

You Have a Persistent Injury

Regularly experiencing injuries (think: straining a muscle or exacerbating an old injury)?”When you have overtraining syndrome, you’re engaging in physical activity with weakened and worn-out muscles, which makes you more vulnerable to getting injured,” says McCall. Additionally, if you exercise frequently and with incorrect form, you increase your risk of overusing your muscles and developing compensatory injuries, he explains.

Your Resting Heart Rate Is Abnormal

If you would more likely describe your resting heart rate as “hammering” or “pounding” rather than “beating,” chances are you have been overtraining. When your body is putting in extra effort to keep up with your training demands, your resting heart rate can change, clarifies McCall. Usually, the difference is significant enough for you to notice even without a heart rate monitor. However, advanced heart-rate tracking devices (such as the Whoop or Apple Watch) have the advantage of also measuring your heart rate variability (the time interval between each heartbeat), which can decrease due to overtraining. For example, if you find your heart racing while in a state of relative rest (such as watching Netflix or lying in bed), it might indicate that you are over-exercising.

You Suspect Exercise Addiction

This is not *always* the case, but over-exercising and exercise addiction frequently go hand in hand. Although it is not officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, if you are concerned that your workout habits or approach to exercising—whether accompanied by symptoms of overtraining syndrome or not—have become obsessive, it is crucial to seek assistance from a mental health professional.

Recovery from Overtraining Syndrome

Some of the symptoms sound familiar. Now what? Begin by discussing your condition with a healthcare provider. This is particularly important because many of the aforementioned symptoms are also indications of other serious health conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, depression, PCOS, and more. Once these conditions have been ruled out and it has been confirmed that you truly have overtraining syndrome, your next step is to significantly reduce your exercise routine (like, considerably reduce it!), advises Luciani.

Typically, experts will recommend refraining from any exercise for at least one week to allow your body to reset. After that, “working with a trainer who can intentionally design a program for you based on your fitness goals and current lifestyle,” Luciani suggests. They can assist you in incorporating active recovery days, during which you engage in restorative and gentle activities like yoga, mobility exercises, or foam rolling. And, of course, it is crucial to actually follow the program and schedule rest days!

Furthermore, because insufficient intake of nutrients often contributes to overtraining, “athletes should also consult with a nutritionist to determine the precise amount (and type) of food they should consume to support their training goals,” says Luciani.

Also, consider maintaining a fitness emotions journal.

The Main Point

“If you’ve reached the stage of excessive training, you need to enhance your ability to listen to your body,” states Luciani. This isn’t a space where you’ll jot down your workout routine—it’s a place to reflect on your body’s sensations, any discomfort, and how your training regimen is affecting you.

The Key Takeaway

It is crucial to meet the recommended level of physical activity. Exceeding it can be acceptable, provided you have a clear objective in mind and continue to allow your body sufficient time to rest and recuperate between workouts. However, if you start experiencing any of the symptoms associated with overtraining syndrome, it’s time to consult your physician, reduce your intensity, and collaborate with a certified fitness expert.