Why Working Out Too Much Can Make You Really Sick

Tamara Hew-Butler

Key point: Rest and patience are as important as hitting the gym in the first place.

Every 365.25 days, when the Earth completes a full orbit around the Sun, we humans have the opportunity to hit the reset button and become fitter, finer versions of ourselves. As usual for January, social media is humming with advice on how to eat better, exercise regularly, lose weight and remain healthy. We feel particularly invincible at this time of year, armed with renewed vigor and motivation to purge ourselves from previous indulgences and our couch-potato ways.

The New Year is also the time when our overzealous, instant-gratification selves emerge, and we do too much exercise too soon to make up for lost time. Exhaustive muscular work, especially following a period of inactivity, can cause mechanical and chemical disruptions to muscle cell membranes which trigger the muscle cells to burst.

I am an exercise physiologist and sports medicine specialist who studies exercise-associated collapse. I am seeing and hearing of more incidents of skeletal muscle ruptures that are causing harm in other parts of the body.

This information is not designed to scare people back onto the couch. The key take-away from highlighting these cases is to remind athletes, coaches and mere mortals that the desired physiological response to a training stimulus requires both a gradual buildup period and period of recovery in between training sessions.

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