Is it possible to exercise too much?
The answer is yes, and sometimes stories in the news provide a crucial reminder. Three weeks ago, former talk show host Montel Williams was admitted to the hospital after “overdoing it” at the gym. According to Men’s Health, Williams, who is a well-known exercise enthusiast, was doing dumbbell squats when he “felt something was wrong” and called 9-1-1.
In 1999, Williams was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease of the central nervous system in which nerve coverings deteriorate over time, causing problems in communication between the brain and body, ultimately leading to symptoms such as vision loss, pain, numbness, weakness and fatigue. Exercise is extremely beneficial in managing MS symptoms, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
However, even those without pre-existing medical conditions can overdo it at the gym. Dr. David Saper, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Ill., offers some advice.
“Summer is a great time to be active and get into shape,” says Dr. Saper. “However, this is also the time we often see patients with overuse injuries that can impact the quality of the warmer months.”
Dr. Saper says overuse injuries often occur with repetitive activities in a short amount of time when the body is not yet ready for it. The classic example is ‘shin splints’, or pain in the legs from too much running.
Another example is shoulder pain and impingement from repetitive golfing or tennis, especially if you have not played for a while. “It is not uncommon for overuse injuries to become bigger problems if not addressed,” he says. “This could include difficult-to-heal stress fractures, torn tendons and even broken bones.”
While some soreness is to be expected when you exercise – especially if you are getting in shape – it’s important to know the difference between what is normal and what can be a symptom of a potential injury.
“While muscle aches and soreness can be a rewarding feeling after a strenuous work out, pain or swelling in a joint or tenderness over a bone should not be ignored,” says Dr. Saper. “If you are feeling that a joint is weak, or you feel a ‘mechanical’ problem like clicking or catching, you should see a qualified sports medicine physician.”
In addition to injuries, overheating is also an important concern. Like pain and swelling, excessive fatigue, dizziness and headaches during exercise can all be signs that you’re overdoing it. Make sure you know how to avoid overheating and heatstroke in the warm weather.
The best way to avoid over-exertion is to slowly ease into more difficult forms of exercise. Dr. Saper recommends body weight exercises as one of the safest ways to build up to a challenging workout without injury.
“Body weight exercises are where you use some, or all, of your own body weight in a controlled fashion to get a great workout,” he says. “Depending on your activity level, you can make these movements easy or challenging. There are numerous online resources and videos to instruct you on how to safely participate in body weight activities.”
One more reminder? “Enjoy the summer and be active, but start and progress slowly! Never ignore any weakness, swelling, or tenderness over a bone or joint,” suggests Dr. Saper. “Sports medicine physicians are trained to keep you active and healthy!”
About the Author
Sophie Mark, health enews contributor, is a Public Affairs Intern at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. She is also a student at Loyola University Chicago, where she is completing her degrees in Advertising/Public Relations and English. In her free time she loves reading, baking, and exploring the city.