We look at what happens when you get too much of a good thing.
Exercising is immeasurably good for our health, bodies and minds. The feeling of tying up your running shoes and taking those first few paces in the fresh air, feeling the cool air in your face as you ride around on your bike, becoming aware of the powerful muscles in your arms and legs as you take strokes in the water, or unrolling your yoga mat and feeling your body stretch, flex and find its balance. Exercise has many benefits, not least physical health, mental wellness and (of course) a hot bod. But there is a point at which too much exercise with not enough rest can actually start to have negative effects and stress our bodies out.
Cortisol + Adrenal fatigue: aka when the body stresses out and can’t cope
You might have heard of cortisol before. Cortisol is a key adrenal hormone. What it doesn’t want you to know is that it’s always stressed out. Cortisol is a stress hormone. Our bodies produce cortisol as a response to any kind of stress. Cortisol will come on the scene if you’re tired, under pressure with a deadline at work, having a fight with your other half, or when someone PULLS OUT IN FRONT OF YOU WITHOUT INDICATING. Cortisol also gets twitchy if you’re exercising too much. Cortisol wants you to know that it isn’t bad in itself, normal levels are fine. But if you’re producing too much, it’s not great for your overall health.
Adrenal fatigue occurs when you’re not able to keep up with your normal everyday functioning. Think of it as Monday morning on repeat: depression, decreased performance, difficulty waking, feeling unrested, a lack of energy. Adrenal fatigue is the result of out-of-whack cortisol levels, and that’s how doctors diagnose it.
To maintain healthy cortisol levels: make sure you’re not overtraining. Keep your workouts intense but short. Bear in mind that cortisol levels rise sharply after 45 minutes of strength training. Make sure you take time to recover. Decrease your training frequency and incorporate rest days (or active recovery days) to make sure your body has time to regroup.
During a hardcore workout your body has to work hard to burn sugar and fat for fuel. Just like any kind of “burning” there’s a byproduct. In your body the “smoke” that comes from “burning” a lot of sugar and fat is actually free radicals. Free radicals can bind with cholesterol and create plaque buildup in your system, clogging your arteries and even damaging cells. This process is called oxidative stress.
Experts say that our bodies are designed to be able to handle the oxidative stress that comes from the first hour of exercise, but prolonged intense exercise causes excessive oxidative stress. It’s this kind of oxidative stress that will make you predisposed to problems.
To help your body, make sure you’re not subjecting it to too much oxidative stress through exercise. We also suggest eating antioxidant-rich foods (like blueberries and blackberries!) to help you recover from your workouts.
As Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist based in the U.S. has said, “ Exercise may be the most important component of a healthy lifestyle, but like any powerful drug you’ve got to get the dose right.” A moderate exercise routine is important in reducing the risk of many health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia and heart disease, to name a few. Doing some exercise regularly (whatever it is you enjoy) can also help to support your mood, skeletal and muscular health. But as research has shown, if you’re overexerting yourself many of these health benefits pretty much disappear.