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Too much of a good thing?

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Making exercise a habit is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It benefits you physically and mentally. It specifically reduces your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and depression. It can help with managing weight, although I know from experience that you can eat away the benefits of any good fitness program. 

But like anything else, it is possible to overdo it. Too much exercise, or overtraining, can lead to injury and illness. Serious athletes who exercise too hard or too long may even succumb to a condition referred to as “overtraining syndrome.”

Chronic overtraining also can have long-term health consequences. For example, at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual conference in 2012, researchers reviewed the results of several studies that focused on the health of runners. They found that the runners in one study who trained continuously and extensively for marathons, ultra-marathons, Ironman competitions, etc., had a higher incidence of heart damage. The doctors who reviewed the research pointed out that there are very few people who push the envelope this hard, but the evidence is mounting on the ill effects of chronic training for extreme endurance events. 

Don’t use this as an excuse for not exercising, though. Another finding of this research was that all runners had a 19 percent lower risk of dying from any cause than nonrunners. But they also found the risk was no different between runners who ran shorter distances on fewer days per week and those who trained more often or for longer distances.  

This is good news for people who are discouraged about exercising because they think they must spend hours at the gym, pool, or track. The truth is you can achieve health benefits from as little as 30 minutes of exercise each day and it doesn’t even need to be done all at once. Taking a couple of quick 15-minute walks after lunch and dinner would do it.  

If you are more ambitious and want to achieve a greater level of strength, endurance, and fitness, then go for it. Just be sure to allow your body time to rest and recover after strenuous exercise. Taking a day off can leave you with more strength and energy for the next workout. 

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