When Exercise Can Harm More Than Help

Extreme athletes are fit, right? Most of us believe that all that high level endurance training has got to keep your body in top condition. But there is evidence to suggest that the type of intense dedicated training that some people put their bodies through may be actually doing them more harm than good.

We all know that professional footballers, wrestlers and those involved in similar contact supports can often develop injuries associated with high-impact collisions. This type of damage is often not problematic until many years after an athlete’s sporting career has ended and is often unavoidable but there are steps that can be taken now to minimize the chances of other problems developing.

So what type of problems can come from extreme exercise?

When Exercise Goes Wrong

Bone related injuries from high-impact sports, and sports training, leads many ex-professional athletes to a stage where they require surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements, later in life due to the extreme nature of their sports. Some training injures simply come with the territory.

While most athletes are aware of the potential bone injury risks involved in their sports many are unaware of the greater dangers posed by their heavy training routines.

It has always been believe that that the type of extreme training many modern athletes engage in is great exercise for keeping fit and healthy despite the injury risks. I mean all that that training must be good for the heart, right?

Well, not according to the Mayo Clinic. Scientific research carried out in 2017 suggests that extreme exercise can have a very negative impact on the heart. The study shows that a certain point exercise stops being beneficial to the heart and starts putting it under stress.

But, this is not the only drawback to training like the superfit.

Extreme Exercise Becomes Addictive

It seems that for some people the more they exercise the more they want to exercise.

Exercise can become equally addictive for both men and women, though it usually for different core reasons.

Extreme exercise produces a drug-Like effect

While exercise is not a drug it can produce drug-like effects in the mind and body. Drugs are addictive.

Being addicted to exercise can help you develop some great character traits such as determination, persistence and goal-setting/attainment while also being highly effective in helping people get over some diseases which includes certain disorders pertaining to the heart, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

exercise addictionBut like any addiction, excessive exercise has its dark side.

When something becomes an obsession the person with that obsession becomes a slave to it and becomes dependent on it. This can happen when a person engages in extreme exercise where they first develop an obsession than later becomes a dependency. This dependency on training is largely due to the release of specific chemicals during exercise.

Pushing past the tolerance level

There is a phenomenon known as the “runner’s high” where the brain experiences a sense of euphoria from the endorphins released into the bloodstream during exercise. This state can become highly addictive.

The problem arises in that, like all drugs, a tolerance is built-up for specific chemical by the brain. As time passes it takes more and more of that chemical to elicit the same effect.

With exercise this means it requires more extreme measures to produce more endorphins to create the same euphoric high as time passes.

So, in order to get the same high an athlete must train harder and in even more extreme measures as he/she becomes accustomed to the exercise routine and the brain builds-up a tolerance for the endorphin levels.

When addition becomes dependence

When this type of “chemical abuse” continues in the long-term the obsession morphs into dependence as the brain craves the chemical just to function at normal levels.

One study on the affects of exercise addiction found that there is a relationship between frontal lobe brain asymmetry and exercise addiction. This  suggests that exercising in an addictive manner can activate and even alter parts of the frontal lobe that are responsible for regulating moods and emotional responses.

This can account somewhat for the feelings of guilt and annoyance felt when a training session is missed or a set of exercises are not completed to a satisfactory level. At this stage a person has become dependent on exercise as a means of controlling their emotional state.

Extreme Exercise Can Cause Body Trauma

I mentioned above about the commonality of injuries caused by contact sports. But, you don’t have to be a professional athlete or football star to pick up these type of injuries.

These type of injuries are just as easily acquired by people who do not engage in sports but who participate in extreme training.

Extreme endurance exercises and heavy training can cause musculoskeletal trauma that can have wide-ranging effects in several areas of your life from producing chronic pain to causing sleep loss.

The trauma to bones, muscles and tendons that is caused by extreme exercise can actually outweigh its health benefits.

But these types of ailments are the only problems caused by over-training.

Too much exercise is bad for your digestive system

The Australian sports journal, Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, claims that intense physiological stress on the body from heavy exercise can cause Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Leaky Guy Syndrome is a condition where the stomach lining is so weakened it allows germs and toxins to pass through. This can lead to a myriad of nasty symptoms including (but not limited to):

  • Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
  • Inability to properly process nutrition from food
  • Reduction in immune system defenses
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of focus
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Skin problems
  • Carb and sugar cravings
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADD
  • ADHD
  • Can lead to the development of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease

A toxic release of Cortisol

Too much exercise can release the stress hormone cortisol into your body.

The hormone Cortisol stimulates the production of new glucose (gluconeogenesis) in the liver and increases protein breakdown in the muscles. It often leads to lack of sleep which in turn produces more cortisol and can also lead to extreme weight loss or weight gain.

Although cortisol has its advantages (your body wouldn’t produce it otherwise), and is actually used in injection form by some athletes for its anti-inflammatory effects, many scientists believe that its negative effects well outweigh its benefits.

It seems that too much cortisol negatively effects the functioning of the immune system and can leave a person more open to diseases.

Heart Matters

As well as the strain on the heart outlined by the Mayo Clinic, it seems that prolonged excessive exercise can also cause a condition known as cardiotoxicity.

Cardiotoxicity causes heart electrophysiology dysfunction or muscle damage. The heart is weakened and becomes less proficient at pumping and circulating blood. This can lead to abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia).

https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-addictionIn a scientific study from 2013, researchers measured the heart rhythms of over 52,000 cross-country skiiers during a ten year period. What was found was alarming.

Researchers discovered that the risk of arrhythmia increased with every race completed, and was up to 30 pc higher for those who competed every year.

Additionally the intensity of the exercise is also an important factor with those hose who finished fastest running a higher risk of developing arrhythmia.

Extreme Exercise Can Cause Artery Wall Stiffening

A study conducted by James H. O’Keefe et al., has found that although regular exercise is highly effective for prevention and treatment of many common chronic diseases and improves cardiovascular health and longevity, the long-term effects of excessive endurance exercise are not at all good.

It seems that such exercise can induce pathologic structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries.

The medical records of people who engage in extreme sports, like cycling and ultra-marathon running, show a five-fold risk in the incidence of atrial fibrillation and also bad heart rates and irregular rhythms. These symptoms are an indication that a person may be suffering from artery wall stiffening.

Extreme Exercise Can Cause Stress

Moderate regular exercise offers a lot of health benefits. These benefits go well beyond just gaining a sense of physical well-being and a healthy body however. The benefits also apply to the mind.

Regular exercise has been shown to be very effective for treating depression, stress and anxiety.

excessive training fatigueHowever, when exercise becomes excessive it can actually become a stressor rather than a stress reliever.

Now normally exercise as a stressor is a very positive thing. It activates the neuroendocrine system with the magnitude of the neuroendocrine stress response being directly proportional to the amount and intensity of the exercise.

According to a study by Anthony C Hackney, PhD, CPH, excessive training results in the neuroendocrine system adapting to stress hormone levels. Excessive exercise training can push the neuroendocrine exercise stress response to become inappropriate, resulting in the potential development of chronic fatigue and the over-training syndrome condition.

Short Intense Workouts Are Better Than Obsessive Routines

If keeping fit is important to you then you should consider changing your exercise routine to incorporate HIIT exercises (high intensity interval training).

With HIIT training you can you keep the intensity of your workouts but without the stress and strain associated with excessive exercising. High intensity interval training can get you fit faster, burn off more calories, as well as body fat, than standard cardio and help you avoid the trap of over-training while taking much less time to perform.

If you are already addicted to exercise however, to the point that it is becoming compulsive and obsessive, consider seeking some professional assistance to break the addiction so you can get your training routine down to normal levels.