Exercise is a key factor in a healthy lifestyle and is needed for fitness, weight management and overall health. As with most things in life, exercise can be harmful when done in excess. Excessive exercise, also known as overtraining, can lead to injury and may cause hormonal problems for girls and women. Understanding the risks of overtraining helps you to identify the warning signs earlier to prevent harmful outcomes.
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Overtraining can lead to physical fatigue lasting beyond the activity itself. According to Rice University, symptoms like irritability, changes in sleep patterns and loss of enthusiasm for sports are symptoms of overtraining syndrome in athletes. This type of physical and emotional burnout may result from physiological abnormalities like increased cortisol levels and altered immune function caused by overtraining. Other possible symptoms of overtraining syndrome include depression, reduced appetite and weight loss.
Performing the same type of exercise daily increases the risk of overuse injury in joints like the knees or elbows. Unlike acute injuries, which are caused by a sudden traumatic event, overuse injuries occur over time from repetitive use of the same joints or muscles. Examples of common overuse injuries include tennis elbow, runner’s knee and Achilles tendinitis. According to SportsMed.org, overuse injuries are the most difficult type of injury to treat in sports medicine.
Decreased Bone Density
For women, chronic overtraining can have serious and lasting health effects. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases warns that excessive exercise decreases estrogen levels and may increase the risk for osteoporosis. Having low estrogen during the teen and adolescent years — a prime time for bone development — may even affect bone density for life. Missed menstrual periods are a common sign of overtraining in girls and women.
Alternating between different types of exercise each day is a helpful way to avoid overuse injuries. Reducing the duration, frequency or intensity of workouts may be necessary if injuries or burnout have already occurred. Working with a trainer or coach can help ensure proper form and technique to prevent injuries. If you’ve missed a period since starting an exercise program, talk to a doctor. While not an immediate cause for concern, missed periods may signal underlying hormonal imbalances that can lead to weakened bones.