overeager and overtraining

Updated: Aug 28


 


 

Introduction

We are in a crazy world right now. As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, our lives have been uprooted and stressed in every way possible. Quarantine was vital to slow the spread of the virus, but it forced an overwhelming amount of collateral damage. Many of us had our livelihood taken away from us and still struggle gathering our basic human needs. But if you find yourself with extra time on your hands and eager to channel your coronavirus anxiety into new fitness goals, be sure you are doing so safely!


Overeager

So many of us can relate to becoming obsessive when we lose control in a certain aspect of life. High stress becomes frustrating and we desperately shift that control to another area that you wouldn’t normally be so compulsive with. This can look like anything from simply being too hard on ourselves to obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), which is expressed by becoming excessively worried about perfectionism, habitual order, attention to detail, and a need to control without flexibility. This can also result in several other conditions such as an eating disorder, alcohol and drug addictions, and even exercise addiction.

Mental stress causes physical pain. With the countless nerve attachments to the rest of the body, the stress will manifest somewhere in the body in several ways. Whether that is an upset stomach, a headache, or muscle tension, it is extremely important to understand methods to destress and relax the mind and body. The most common and effective modes of exercise for stress specifically is anything aerobic (running, walking, rowing, etc.), yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and massage therapy. “Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”1 Exercise is an incredibly effective method of managing stress. Aside from the more commonly discussed advantages of training such as weight loss and strength improvements, it produces endorphins that act as natural stress reducers and pain killers. Numerous studies show that exercise is a requirement for mental fitness, and that it reduces fatigue, improves concentration, and provides the groundwork for handling mental stress.




Overtraining

The progression towards increasing exercise as a method of dealing with the stress of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and the new instability in the world is a great solution!

Movement also improves the immune system, which we all could use right about now. “Based upon the available evidence, moderate intensity exercise training should be used as an adjunct to other preventative measures against respiratory tract viral infection.”2 In fact, there is an entire new area of scientific study dedicated to this idea called Exercise Immunology, which studies the acute and chronic responses on the body’s defense capabilities toward pathogens relative to the exercise workload. “Habitual exercise improves immune regulation, delaying the onset of age-related dysfunction.”3 Exercise and overall movement will enhance our ability to deal with all the change, during times of stress and in general aging, as long as it is used correctly.








Fig 1. Key research areas and basic findings in exercise immunology3


But, believe it or not, overtraining is a real condition and happens more than we realize. Pandemic or not, the body can only adapt to so much change. I applaud your dedication and choice of a healthy activity in a stressful time, but if you are under mental/emotional stress, not getting restorative sleep, and not getting adequate nutrition, then pushing for high-intensity exercise sparks an increase in stress hormones, inflammation, and oxidative stress. That obviously puts you at greater risk of getting sick. If you are pushing intense exercise while your body is potentially fighting a virus or just in a compromised state, your biological resources are monopolized trying to meet your basic needs first. If we truly are introducing an appropriate approach to new exercise, it is extremely beneficial and improves immunity, but when you are overtraining, you are at risk. “Although the upper limits of activity for achieving health benefits are not clear at this time, Dr. Nieman points out that general health and fitness benefits are best achieved by most people by "…keeping within recommended limits of 20 to 90 minutes per bout on most days4 So more is not always better, we have to stay intuitive to our body’s ability to handle different levels of exercise! Over-stressing the body by overtraining will do more harm than good. So how can we tell?

If you experience any symptoms of compromised immunity such as:

  • Increased fatigue

  • Sore throat

  • Fever

  • Overwhelming unaddressed stress

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Abdominal cramping

  • Frequent infections

The idea is to meet your body’s basic needs, THEN attack challenging exercise goals! How? Use this checklist:

  • Sleep: restorative sleep hygiene of 7-8hr/night where you wake up feeling genuinely refreshed

  • Nutrition: consume the healthiest possible diet to sustain long term health (predominantly whole food, plant-based)

  • Stress Management: determine what habits are appropriate for your stress level and regularly practice them (meditation, calling a friend, deep breathing, partnering with a therapist, yoga, etc.)

  • Exercise: consistently move every hour of the day (using a standing desk, walking and stretch breaks, make calls while walking, avoid sitting for longer than 30min consecutively)

  • Relationships: form and maintain healthy relationships with others

  • Avoid or minimize risky substances like tobacco and alcohol

When all the boxes are checked…. Then you are clear to crush the tough workouts!


References:

  1. "Physical Activity Reduces Stress." Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Web.

  2. Martin, Stephen A et al. “Exercise and respiratory tract viral infections.” Exercise and sport sciences reviews vol. 37,4 (2009): 157-64. doi:10.1097/JES.0b013e3181b7b57b

  3. Nieman, David C., and Laurel M. Wentz. "The Compelling Link between Physical Activity and the Body's Defense System." Journal of Sport and Health Science. Elsevier, 16 Nov. 2018. Web.

  4. Corbin, Charles B. “Helping Clients Understand National Physical Activity Guidelines.” ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 13, no. 5, 2009, pp. 17–22., doi:10.1249/fit.0b013e3181b46a34.

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