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8 Signs Your Cardio Workouts Are Doing More Harm Than Good

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Aerobic exercise (think running, biking, and jumping rope) is good for your health, helps with weight loss and generally makes you feel good.  But believe it or not, you can have too much of a good thing—even exercise.  It's important to find the balance between challenging yourself, making exercise a regular part of your daily routine, and doing more harm than good. But where exactly is the line where a healthy amount becomes too much?
Cardiovascular exercise burns calories and strengthens your heart and lungs. So the more you do, the better off you'll be, right?  Not necessarily.  It is possible to do too much cardio. What counts as "too much" is different for everyone, and depends on a lot of factors, including the intensity of your exercise, your fitness level, your age and health status, how much activity you do each day, what and how much you eat, how much sleep you get, your fitness goals and more. What might be too much for one person is perfectly fine for another. What might be too much for a new exerciser could also be fine for them a year later.
Even though exercise is good for us, our bodies perceive it like any kind of stressor. Chemically, the body reacts the same way to exercise as it does to "bad" stress. Therefore, too much exercise (or not enough recovery) can have negative effects on your physical and mental health (including your metabolism). In addition, too much cardio specifically can result in muscle wasting (atrophy), which is not the outcome you want. In extreme cases, even the heart suffers from too much endurance training. When it comes to exercise, picture a bell curve: The people who reap the most health benefits are somewhere in the middle. The people on either extreme end—too much exercise or too little—suffer consequences.
When you listen to your body, it will usually give you signs that it's time to cut back or slow down with the exercise.  If you answer YES to any of these questions, you could be doing too much cardio.
  • Do you generally feel fatigued throughout the day?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping or feel like you're not well rested even when sleeping 8+ hours a night?
  • Has your physical performance (strength, speed, endurance) gone down rather than getting better?
  • Are you getting sick more often than normal?
  • Has your body fat dropped below healthy levels for your height?
  • For women, has your menstrual cycle changed, lengthened, or disappeared (amenorrhea)?
  • Do you have trouble recovering between workouts?
  • Have you experienced an overuse injury such as a stress fracture, broken bone, or other chronic pain?
For more information on the signs of overtraining, check out 7 Hidden Signs of Overtraining
The vast majority of people who exercise consistently and recreationally will not fall into problems of doing "too much" exercise. More competitive exercisers, especially those who train for endurance and ultra-endurance events (think Ironman triathlons, multiple marathon distance races in a year, century bike rides, and ultra-marathons longer than 26.2 miles) are at a greater risk of hitting the ceiling of too much exercise. Every individual is unique and some athletes can participate in these types of sports for years without ever running into problems.

Exercising in Moderation
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week to achieve baseline levels of health and fitness. Obviously, a lot of exercisers do much more than this, but for beginners, these recommendations are something to slowly work up to as you become more fit. Even "moderate" levels of exercise can be too much if your body isn't accustomed to it.

Anytime you start a new fitness program, it's important to ask yourself "Is this a routine I can keep up for the rest of my life?"  Although you might want to exercise for two hours each day, that's not something most people can maintain forever before physical and/or mental burnout sets in.  Even marathon runners take rest days and aren't training for races every day of the year.  When it comes to cardio exercise, the quality of your workout is much more important than how long they last, so if you can walk at a very challenging pace for 30 minutes, that's often a smarter use of your time than walking slowly for 90 minutes, for example.
SparkPeople recommends taking 1-2 days of rest each week from exercise. Many of the world's top athletes prioritize rest and recovery just as much as they do their actual training. In fact, it is during the recovery time that your body rebuilds and becomes stronger because of the work you put in. Some people prefer to take "active rest" days, meaning you do light activities like take a walk or a yoga class.  Rest days don't mean you're lazy. They mean you're smart and know to give your body the rest that it needs.  
It's also important to alternate between higher intensity and lower intensity workouts throughout the week.  All exercise intensities benefit the body in different ways, so variety is essential in a well-rounded fitness program. But if every workout you do takes place at a high intensity, it could add up to "too much" if you are not taking adequate rest days.  You shouldn't be trying to go all-out in every workout you do. 
If it really makes you nervous or uncomfortable to rest or cut back on your exercise even though you know you should, read When Too Much Exercise Becomes a Problem.

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CECELW 5/26/2021
it's unpleasant overdoing wow! Report
BONNIE1552 5/5/2021
I'm definitely not in any danger of overdoing it. Report
ELRIDDICK 4/15/2021
Thanks for sharing Report
DIVAGLOW 4/10/2021
Thanks for the info. Report
JUDY1676 1/16/2021
Thanks Report
EVILCECIL 11/12/2020
I need more exercise not less. :-( Report
I don't over exercise. Report
WINNER61 8/14/2020
Thank you very much sharing this information. Report
Thanks Report
great info Report
thanks for info. I'm not likely to have too high intensity Report
I will never get too much cardio. I have had friends obsessed with it only to have an injury, illness or other interruption to prevent maintaining that intensity and it wreaks havoc on them. No thanks. I love a brisk walk instead. Report
Rest days are essential. Report
thanks Report
In all things moderation! Report
Thanks Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thank You for the valuable information. Report
Great article. Especially about "It's also important to alternate between higher intensity and lower intensity workouts throughout the week". I will combine it with what I am doing to improve my results. Report
Thanks Report
Has never been a problem for me. Too little, yes. Too much, never. Report
Great article Report
Major "take away" from this is that there is no "one size fits all" Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
thanks Report
Thanks for sharing Report
I've always been torn by this article because as much as I may agree with the idea that I probably workout too much, when I don't I gain weight. I always have to change up my routines and make them more. Report
I answered yes to several of these questions. I think I need to slow down a bit. Thanks. Report
thanks for sharing... Report
Thanks for this information. Report
Can't imagine "over exercising" lol
Great article though Report
Hahahaha! I doubt I will ever fall into the Over-Exercisers group! Report
Great article. Report
good to know
Great points. Sometimes we lose sight! Report
Thanks for sharing Report
This is me!! Report
Great article! Report
Great information! Report
Good information and something to pay attention to. Report
The next article should be exercise addiction, years ago when I was healthy as I got obsessed with burning 1000 calories in an hour just using a stepper n elliptical machine. This was after 3 hours of very early morning work which had heavy lifting and wouldn't eat till I got home from gym while getting ready for my day job. I had a fright after heading to shower n when I hopped in I felt pressure n then release n blood poured from my nose. Really is too much of a good thing ! Report
It isn't necessary to go all out every day to burn calories or maintain weight-loss programs. Information I gathered through research:

Recovery training, short (50-70% of Max Heart Rate)
This training helped and speeded up your recovery from intense activity. This training intensity is recommended for recovery exercises throughout the training season; because it is short, it is suitable also for warm-up and cool-down. It can promote overall health and wellbeing.

Basic training, long (60-70% of MHR)
This training improved your general base fitness and basic aerobic endurance, and boosted your metabolism. Your body's ability to store oxygen within the cardio system and muscles improved. Because the training session was long, effects are expected to be stronger. Fat is the main energy source that your body uses at this training intensity, thus preserving your glucose storages.

Steady state training (70-80% of MRH)
This training improved your aerobic fitness. It also improved the endurance of the working muscles by enhancing blood circulation to them. Carbohydrates are the main energy source that your body uses at this training intensity. (Maintain a consistent speed, level of intensity and work rate during an exercise session.) Enhances ability to use fat as an efficient fuel source, which reserves muscle glycogen to be used for higher-intensity exercise.

Tempo training (80-90% of MRH)
This training increased your anaerobic tolerance, and improved your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and efficiency. It also raised the speed you can maintain without building up lactic acid. Carbohydrates are the main energy source that your body uses at this training intensity.
85-90% of maximum heart rate.

Maximum training (90-100% of MRH) used in HIIT training
It improved your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), speed, efficiency, and performance. This training intensity is recommended for relatively SHORT exercises. It is important to warm up before and cool down after the workout. Report
I like this, but I sometime feel that the way streaks are set up on this site make us (well me) 'scared' to have a proper rest day / get ill.

I have a streak on steps (only 6000 and activity (from my Garmin so not necessarily exercise - 60mins, but they do make me not want to rest & 'break' my streak Report
I think Ive been there--- Report
We often fall into the "more is better" trap when in fact, Meis Van Der Rohe was right, "Less is more". This article was a great reminder Report
I liked this article Report
I have been trying to get back to my exercise routine but it's taking longer. For example, I did a lot of cleaning lately and I'm recovering from that with it's aches and pains. My fitness level isn't the same as before Christmas because I had two flu's. Listening to my body is more important than ever. And true I haven't been getting much sleep. Report