Study finds exercise helpful in moderation, harmful in excess


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Photo by Louis Kang |

Three weeks into January, many people have already dropped their resolutions to work out more, but some people may be exercising too much.

A recent study suggested that overdosing on exercise can have detrimental effects on a person’s health, specifically their heart, according to The Wall Street Journal.

While exercise is believed to improve both mental and physical health, certain types of workout sessions like cardio should not exceed more than 45 minutes, according to Mercola Fitness.

Regular cardio exercises have many benefits. It can help increase the amount of oxygen in blood, improve the ability of the body to detoxify and elevate one's mood.

But excessive exercise can lead to the breakdown of tissues, release stress hormones, increase the risk of injuries due to tears in muscle fibers and weaken the immune system, according to Mercola.

Excessive exercise can be a part of an eating disorder, said Susan Kaplowitz, a professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies. It manifests when a person exercises excessively as a way of losing weight or to compensate for their eating.

“It can also be a psychological problem caused by poor body image: 'I am not thin enough, I am not muscular enough,'” Kaplowitz said.

The former is often associated with women and the latter with men. An unrealistic body image is called body dysmorphic disorder, she said. For men it is sometimes referred to as muscle dysmorphia.

People become obsessed with exercise and neglect their other activities. They may take drugs, like steroids, to continue this situation, Kaplowitz said.

“Physiologically, this affects their oxygen uptake, could have an effect on blood pressure, could cause arrhythmias, could cause infertility (like) amenorrhea for females (and) could (harm) relationships,” Kaplowitz said.

An ideal workout session depends on the individual’s age, physical level and other constraints, Kaplowitz said. Most surgeons agree a 30 minutes session of moderate intensity would be beneficial for people.

For individuals in the intense range, 60 to 75 minutes is a good length of time for a workout, she said.

Though there are negative effects, they do not outweigh the positives when done correctly. It can control glucose levels, improve sleep, improve aerobic functioning, preserve flexibility, improve balance and increase endorphins, she said.

So being a "gym rat" is not immediately a positive or a negative. If being a gym rat brings intense pressure, stress and anxiety and you plan your whole day around excessive exercise, in lieu of their school work and friends, this is a serious problem. And you should ask for help, she said.

“But if (you) use exercise to gain the benefits mentioned before, they will have a positive outcome,” Kaplowitz said.

Kira Mikayla Herzog, a School of Engineering first-year student and a member of the Rutgers gymnastics team, practices for about four hours, five days per week.

“In addition to gymnastics training, we do spin for an hour each week, lift for one hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays and swim once a week for an hour,” Herzog said.

Exercise in itself can become problematic when it is combined with the pressure and stress of obtaining perfection. There are a lot of cases of eating disorders and other problems with college athletes, she said.

If the mental aspect of it is kept under control and injuries are avoided, exercise is generally a positive thing, she said.

“A lot of times after I practice, I find myself more capable of focusing on school work and being productive," she said. “Gymnastics is a very high-risk sport and as a result, over my career I have torn both my ACL and PCL in my knee, broken my foot and experienced a lot of problems with chronic injuries like tendinitis."

Injuries are a big part of any sport, but Rutgers Athletics does a good job of handling them, she said.

“Our team has a personal trainer that works with us on rehab and prevention and as a result we are able to recover from injuries much more efficiently,” Herzog said.

Shajjad Khondaker, a School of Engineering junior, said he likes to go the gym every day for an hour.

"If I start my day with exercise, I feel better and am able to concentrate more on my studies," he said.

Khondaker has never experienced negative effects of working out. The only time he stopped exercising was when he had a ligament tear due to playing soccer.

“Exercise is good for building a body, health, and mind and is a great stress reliever, it gives my mind a break,” Khondaker said.


Chinmoyi Bhushan

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