CAN TOO MUCH EXERCISE AND OVER TRAINING MAKE YOU SICK ?
This article is addressed to those of you who have taken up exercise, especially aerobic exercises like running, swimming or cycling.
Far be it from me to discourage anyone from taking regular exercise, but there are times when exercise can be damaging.
Exercise within limits, and those limits differ because of the different fitness levels of individuals, which has a positive effect on your health. If you go beyond those limits you may develop problems. The limits to a large extent are dictated by common sense. Always remember, your body is your only vehicle to move around in for the rest of your life, an it is important to care for it in every way possible. An excess of exercise can predispose you to
- cardiovascular problems,
- excess weight,
- irritability, etc.
A sprinter will try to develop more power in her muscles by training slightly harder than is comfortable.
He/She may lift weights that are heavier than previously tried.
He/She may attempt to repeat more weight lifts, train more often, train more intensely, or change other aspects of fitness training specific to her sport.
Muscle dysmorphia is the name given to Sufferers of a disorder whereby they will focus their entire day around when they can work out, what they eat, and how much muscle they are building.
The compulsive weight lifting and consumption of dietary supplements describes the term “muscle dysmorphia”. This disorder is more mental than physical and may also be a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
This disorder can affect both sexes; however, it is more commonly seen in men. It is also classified as an eating disorder, and is considered to be the opposite of anorexia nervosa – a disease where one can never be too thin.
Numbers of people with Muscle dysmorphia are hard to estimate, but it is known that around 100,000 or more people in the world meet the criteria that classifies them as having Bigorexia. They are often found in body builders and frequent gym-goers.
The ugliness felt by those with “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” or BDD, draws them away from social situations that might draw attention to themselves. Body dysmorphic disorder is sometimes considered a social phobia or a form of obsessive compulsive disorder.
Those affected with this disorder are at an increased risk as they are vulnerable to a range of psychological, biological, and environmental risks including depression, and/or suicide, heart failure, renal failure, and dehydration. Plastic surgery is also common among those with this disorder and pharmacological abuse and supplements.
The sports psychologists believe the condition can be particularly damaging for young rugby players, whose determination to make the first team can lead to them turning to extreme methods of gaining muscle as they try to ‘make weight’.
‘These young players will be aged between 17 and 19 and nowhere near fully grown or ready to deal with a 16 stone adult, first-team player,’ But the pressures to get into the first team are huge, and to do that you have to make weight.
Over the past decades the media has been the primary blame of creating body image disorders among both females and males.
SYMPTOMS OF OVER TRAINING
There may be problems with the nervous system, with emotional balance, irritability, nervousness, or lethargy resulting.
All or even just some of these complaints can lead you to problems with motor control and co-ordination. You may find your strength decreasing, movements may become sloppy with a subsequent decline in technique. If this occurs then you are much more likely to injure yourself.
There are organic symptoms which may occur;
- Palpitations of your heart and/or chest pains,
- Gastrointestinal problems with a decrease in appetite,
- Heavy legs,
- Weight loss,
- Excessive sweating,
- Menstrual disturbances
- Increased susceptibility to illness.
Exercise engenders complex changes in your body.
Different intensities of exercise vary the circulating levels of
- stress hormones,
- growth hormones,
- blood sugar,
- thyroxine, etc.
Some of these hormones change the rate of turnover of connective tissue during exercise, leading to damage in the bones’ micro-fibres.
These hormone changes make you more prone to connective tissue injuries and these may be a sign of overt raining.
Many of the above organic disturbances can be brought about by stressful life situations in a non-training person also. Of particular concern is the increased tendency to illness.
IMMUNITY AND STRESS
In response to stress you produce a chemical substance like morphine; it is called endorphins. Endorphins is an opioid peptide and has been shown to inhibit immune function by suppressing lymphocytes’ (B-and T-cells) function.
Other immune cells, like Natural Killer cells, roam about the body poisoning invading organisms.
They especially target cancer cells as well as viruses and they may control excessive growth in epithelial cells (cells that line the digestive tract wall and skin) and in the bone marrow.
Natural Killer cells are inhibited in their actions by opioids. Mild, inescapable stress do not cause problems but continuous stress calls forth, ‘mind-and immune-numbing morphoids’.
You may have heard of ‘runner’s high’ from self-produced morphine’s.
White blood cells (leukocytes), variously called neutrophils and basophils, all swallow invading organisms. They are quick-acting cells. They attach quickly and die. They charge into action, producing free radicals as a by-product of their fast metabolic rate. So the dreaded free radicals can be the product of positive actions as bacteria and invading viruses are attacked.
Moderate exercise can cause a ‘priming’ effect on your white blood cells, causing them to react to invading organisms more aggressively. However different levels, durations and intensities of exercise have different effects.
Highly trained individuals, although they still have their white blood cells primed by exercise, have up to 50 percent less in absolute numbers in their blood. Thus excessive or chronic training is most likely to cause a depression in the immune system’s response to invasion.
At Ohio State University 87 athletes were monitored for illnesses over an eight-week period. The athletes were in the peak of their competitive season.
Of the 87 athletes, 85 reported on illness at least, most being respiratory.
The study was designed to discover what illnesses different sports engendered. For example, swimmers had respiratory infections in the main and wrestlers showed a high incidence of skin complaints.
What was significant for me was the substantial number with illnesses.
When an athlete exercises, there is a large increase in oxygen consumption; with this comes free radical production as a metabolic by-product.
Well-oxygenated tissue may thus be vulnerable to free-radical or oxidative damage. This would apply especially to the oxygen-carrying red blood cells. If our anti-oxidant system is in good order, there is a little or no damage.
Exercise in some athletes may cause depressed anti-oxidant levels, or there may be so much free-radical production that their anti-oxidant systems are overwhelmed.
It is known that at any level of exercise your body produces fever-enhancing substances. Their presence causes the white blood cells to react aggressively.
Exercise, as I have already said, will prime these cells, thereby enhancing their lethal (to the invaders) potential. Even moderate exercise has this effect.
The athlete in heavy training has impaired immunity.
The damage to tissue, especially red blood cells, from free radicals will, it is postulated, cause lethargy, due to a lessened oxygen-carrying potential, while the depleted white cell count will cause a weakened immune response to pathogens (foreign invaders of your bodies). Thus the increased susceptibility to infection may be explained.
When in training, an athlete may start to feel over stressed to training with any number of the symptoms previously mentioned, but she should not stop training completely. If she does then there will be no ‘priming’ effect on the white blood cells and she becomes susceptible to infections and other illnesses.
NUTRITION AND IMMUNITY
Anemia may be largely overcome by making sure that there is sufficient protein in your daily diet. An athlete in heavy training may need up to two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
In the past, protein has been denigrated as a source of energy. It is thought that protein was not utilized for metabolic energy unless a person was undernourished or fasting. It appears that strenuous exercise increasingly uses circulating amino -acids (proteins) for the working muscles as well as their contribution to whole-body energy metabolism.
It is important to also nutritionally prime the immune system. There is some good information in our website regarding vitamins and minerals, however briefly :-
Selenium has been shown in animal studies to greatly increase the production of antibodies. It also reduces inflammation and augments the action of vitamin E, another anti-oxidant.
Selenium is a powerful anti-oxidant and a free-radical de-activator. It is a co-factor in the protective enzyme gluthionine peroxidine, which catalyses the conversion of lipid peroxides to harmless hydroxyl acids.
It detoxifies mercury and prevents many substances from being converted into carcinogens. When taken with vitamin E, selenium enhances the efficiency of the vitamin by modifying its distribution in the tissues. At the same time, vitamin E increases the body’s tolerance to the mineral.
A reasonable dose for an adult would be 50 to 150 ug (micrograms) daily, not to exceed 150 ug.
A good source of selenium is seafood’s. While stone-ground grains, fresh wheat-germ, onions, garlic, broccoli, corn or Soya beans may all be good sources if grown in selenium-rich soil. It has been noted that certain areas of the United States are selenium-rich and these areas are associated with low incidence of certain types of cancers.
Vitamin C (refer to our posting) has a chequered history as a dietary supplement but it does have a positive effect on immunity. It does not work directly upon a virus but in experimental animals it was shown that it enhances immune function by increasing the activity of white blood cells, especially that of the macrophages (a macrophage is a white blood cell that ingests or swallows bacteria after it is chemically signalled to do so by increased T-cell activity).
Vitamin C enhances iron absorption. Fresh fruits such as strawberries, oranges and melons, and vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and ball peppers, are good dietary sources.
Zinc deficiency can cause poor growth, anemia (leading to lethargy), heightened susceptibility to infection, slow wound healing and, over time, atrophy of the Thymus.
The Thymus plays an important role in immunity as here T-cells are matured.
Zinc supplements do have a stimulating effect on immunity. In Brussels, Dr Jean Duchateau gave 220 milligram Zinc Sulphate pills daily to aged individuals. On testing, their rate of antibody production had increased substantially. T-cells increased and exhibited youthful immunological capabilities including a restoration of Thymic function.
Zinc supplementation on a regular basis is probably not required until after the age of 50 or so and then the dosage is something of the order of 200 to 500 milligrams of Zinc Gluconate or Sulphate daily.
These dietary sources will also aid the athlete in providing other trace elements, the lack of which may contribute to chronic tiredness and lowered metabolic function.
Exercise does, if done reasonably, increase immune activity. It strengthens your heart and musculature. The increase in the immune system response after tolerable levels of exercise, it is postulated, as the result of the activation of previously inactive cells. Cell surface receptors may become more sensitive to signals from immune control cells (T-cells) or less active cells may be replaced by more aggressive cells. The first explanation is more likely.
Two hours after intense prolonged exercise (say two hours plus, working at 75 percent of maximum effort) there is a decrease in Natural Killer cells in circulation. This may be a relative result as one type of cell (T-cells) increases in numbers, the percentage of others decreases.
The long-term effects on well trained endurance athletes do not differ from the norm, but with over training or overloading over time there is a definite depression of immune function amongst others.
PERSONALITY AND TRAINING
There may be personality types who are more prone to over-training than others.
In a study of dancers at St Lukes Roosevelt Hospital Centre, New York, ‘over achievers’ sustained the most injuries. Their personality profiles showed them as extroverted, enterprising, assertive and much less withdrawn than other dancers. They suffered from overuse syndrome.
The dedication to technique and aesthetic ideal puts specific stresses on dancers. In the case of amateur or semi professional athletes, their personality may drive them beyond sensible limits.
Increase your awareness of your goals and your physical needs and do not view them as separate. Harmonize your actions by increasing awareness of yourself as one body/mind complex.
OVERCOMING AND AVOIDING OVER TRAINING
- Regulate and balance your training schedule to suit your fitness level, being aware of changes over time and on a day to day basis. Do not do too much too soon.
- Make reasonable competitive demands of yourself. If you feel a little strained or stale then have a day off after training sessions. If you feel totally tired and stressed then do not compete. Check your resting heart rate; if it rises by 5 to 10 beats per minute over a week or so you may be creeping into an over-training pattern.
- Get sufficient rest and allow recovery time between bouts of exercise, especially between intense bouts of exercise.
- Avoid training in extremes of temperature. Heat, especially dry heat, is most stressful.
- Eat good food in appropriate quantities.
- While training, make sure that you drink adequate amounts of liquid. This can be water or a low-concentrate glucose/electrolyte drink to ensure adequate re-hydration. The taste should be barely sweet.
- Avoid stimulants like tobacco, alcohol, drugs.
- Treat infections as they manifest.
- Resolve internal and interpersonal conflicts.
10. Seek examination and appropriate treatment when necessary by us at Sirius Health or a sports medicine professional or psychologist.