Q:With options limited for working out at the moment, I’ve been doing more and more cardio activities, like hikes, biking and runs. Is there such a thing as too much cardio?
The question of whether you can do too much cardio reminds me of the other age-old questions: “Can you be too rich or too thin?”
The answer to all three questions is YES! Although I will not be tackling the issues related to financial status or eating disorders in today’s column, I will give you several reasons why too much cardio can be counterproductive to your health-related goals.
Cardiovascular activities such as hiking, brisk walking, running and biking are vital for both excellent physical and mental health. These activities can strengthen our heart, increase oxygen supply to our muscles and boost cognitive performance.
Although every individual is different, the average American adult will greatly benefit from 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity. What is moderate intensity? It is moving with a purpose, keeping the ability to speak in full sentences but having to take more breaths in between.
There is a misconception that if you starve yourself and do two to three hours of cardio per day, that you will have fat just melting off your body. The truth is that too much cardio can put your body in a catabolic state, and you will be burning muscle instead of fat.
This loss of muscle can then reduce strength and further slow down your metabolism, thus making it more difficult to lose that pesky fat that may be your goal in the first place.
So what are some signs that you are doing too much cardio? Well, it is important to listen to your body. If you are always feeling muscle or joint soreness, you are doing too much. I am talking about more than just some soreness related to using muscles that you have not used in a while. Overtraining will lead to discomfort that continues to stay with you.
Another way to identify that you are doing too much cardio is when your “easy days” start to feel like “hard days.” All of us need to have some rest between sessions for our bodies to heal and recover.
When you used to really enjoy your workouts and now you do not look forward to them, that is another sign that you need a break or it’s time to mix things up. Adding in some strength training and yoga during the week can be very helpful. Even having a day or two off from exercise during the week is OK.
Too much cardio can also negatively affect sleep and your immune system. Although exercise can often help sleep in general, too much cardio (especially late in the day) can elevate body temperature and increase cortisol levels, which are great for arousal, but not so good for falling asleep. Too much cortisol can also suppress our immune system, which can be problematic during these times of a pandemic.
Eating well and doing cardio are very important to achieve your health and fitness goals. But it is just as important to listen to how your body is responding to the exercise and adjust accordingly.
Working out is supposed to be fun and not a long arduous chore. More is not always better … with anything in life.
Have a question for Dr. Raskin you’d like to see answered in a future column? Send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
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