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Exercise: How Much Is Too Much?

Moving your body is great for cardiovascular, respiratory, and overall health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who exercise regularly tend to live longer and have a lower risk for serious health problems. 

There is no doubt that exercise is a good thing, but how much is too much? Some people actually have a compulsion to exercise, often to the point when it is no longer healthy. This addiction to exercise and desire to exercise obsessively may be caused by unrealistic beauty standards or a strong desire to gain muscle or lose weight. Whatever the reason, too much exercise can eventually do you more harm than good.


The “Goldilocks Zone” 

A 2018 study published in Missouri Medicine described a “Goldilocks Zone” for health, which is used to determine what amount of exercise is healthy and what may not be benefiting you. While the “Goldilocks Zone” was geared toward older adults, it can apply to anyone.

There are several guidelines included in the “Goldilocks Zone,” such as:

  • Follow the CDC-recommend activity guideline of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or aim for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. 
  • Vigorous exercise includes heart-pounding, sweat-inducing exercise. Try to limit this to no more than 4-5 hours per week, especially if you are over the age of 45. 
  • After approximately 30 minutes of sitting, stand up and move around. If you can, take a 5-minute walk. Consider getting a standing desk so you do not have to sit all day. 
  • Any change is good change. If you live a completely sedentary lifestyle or do not exercise at all, even adding small amounts of moderate exercise is good for you. You will notice positive physical and mental benefits that may inspire you to do more. 
  • If you exercise above the recommendations (more than 150 minutes of moderate activity or more than 75 minutes of strenuous activity per week), you may notice increased speed and muscle as well as other health benefits. If you are over 50, consider switching a few vigorous workouts for moderate ones. This may affect your muscle or speed gains, but it will also help your body heal, help your muscles heal, and keep your heart safe from injury. 
  • Leisure activities that provide low to moderate exercise opportunities are great! These include bowling, baseball, volleyball, golf, tennis, dancing, croquet, and more. Playing games is an easy way to get moving and stay connected with friends and family. 
  • Take off at least one day per week of exercise. This allows your body to rest and heal. 
  • If you are over 50 and you perform vigorous exercise, consider testing your cardiovascular system. This way, you and your doctor can monitor that your heart is strong enough to keep up with your brain and body. 


When Exercise Is Too Much

Professional athletes work out a lot, as do some regular people — but there is a line between healthy exercise and exercise addiction. Research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health defines exercise addiction as a behavioral addiction in which a person exercises compulsively to the point where they are experiencing negative effects. This is based on six criteria: 

  • Tolerance: The person must continue increasing the amount of exercise to feel the desired effect, such as a “buzz” or sense of accomplishment.
  • Withdrawal: The absence of exercise in this person experiences negative effects like anxiety, irritability, or sleep problems. 
  • Lack of control: The person is unsuccessful at attempts to reduce exercise or cease exercising for a period of time. 
  • Intention effects: The person is unable to stick to their desired routine, evidenced by consistently exceeding the amount of exercise intended.
  • Time: A great deal of time is spent preparing for, engaging in, and recovering from exercise.
  • Reduction in other activities: Social, recreational, and workplace activities occur less or stop completely as a direct result of too much exercise.
  • Continuance: The person continues to exercise too much, even though they know the consequences and that they have lost control. 

Exercise addiction is serious and should be treated accordingly. Those who suffer from exercise addiction can suffer a series of health problems that affect them for the rest of their lives. Many people with exercise addiction have co-occurring disorders, such as mental health issues or eating disorders. Exercise addiction may begin innocently but can become dangerous, especially when the person meets all six exercise addiction criteria listed above. 

If you fear that you are suffering from exercise addiction, talk to your doctor or therapist. Enlisting a training coach, physical therapist, and/or nutritionist can also help you determine if you are addicted to exercise. 


Exercise addiction can be devastating to your health. Some of the negative effects of exercise addiction may include weight loss beyond a healthy range, cardiovascular issues, respiratory issues, skin issues, and more. You may also notice that your family life and social life have changed. If you find yourself unable to stop exercising, talk to your doctor or therapist today. If you are also suffering from addiction or mental health issues, call us at RECO Intensive. At RECO Intensive, we understand that exercise addiction can start innocently. Most people who exercise are trying to be healthy and reap the benefits of moving their bodies. But when the consequences start to outweigh the benefits, our professional staff and experienced alumni at RECO Intensive are here to help. We offer addiction treatment, a myriad of therapies, and a plan that is catered specifically to you. Call us today at (561) 464-6533 for more information. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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