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Posted by: channeal | 2004/10/28

Is It Possible To Exercise Too Much

I am a 53-year-old female and weigh 12 stone. Earlier this year though, I lost almost 2.5 stone over several months, mainly by using an exercise bike at home.

Unfortunately, I had to stop using the bike as it rubbed a sore place at the top of my leg, which kept coming back. I then started going to the gym more and increasing the exercise I was doing there (I was previously only doing 20 minutes walking on the treadmill, plus an hour's gentle swimming in the pool there). I continued to lose weight slowly with the increased exercise at the gym right until mid-August, when I went away on holiday to Greece for 3 weeks.

I ate normally throughout my holiday. I do however put on weight extremely easily and was fully prepared to have gained a little weight during my holiday, despite doing lots of swimming. However, I weighed the same after coming back as before, so was very pleasantly surprised!

Since my holiday however, I have not managed to lose any more weight - despite going to the gym 3 times a week for six weeks. I have gradually increased the amount of exercise I have been doing there and am now using the x-trainer for around 25 minutes, in addition to 30 minutes on the treadmill and 15 minutes on a bike (with a back to it, to stop my leg getting sore!). I thought that the reason I have not been losing weight was because of muscle gain, due to using the cross-trainer for the first time. But surely there is a limit to how long you can put on muscle and not lose any weight?

I was wondering whether it is actually possible to exercise too much? I am eating exactly the same diet as when I was losing weight - and this is fairly Spartan, as all my previous attempts to lose weight by healthy eating got me nowhere. I am absolutely desperate to lose weight, especially as I am putting in so much effort; I had a hysterectomy due to cancer of the womb in March 2002, so it is very important for me to lose weight for health purposes too. Please can you offer any advice?

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Our expert says:
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HI Channeal

It is most definitely possible to exercise too much. We have known for a long time that there is something called overtraining, and we are still trying to fully understand how it works. Having said that, I don't think that your problem is related to this. It's obviously not possible to say this with 100% certainty, but overtraining is generally the result of seriously hard training, 5 to 6 days a week, intense every day, and you are not seemingly doing this in your training. IN fact, three times a week is probably under the recommened frequency of training - we often suggest 4 or 5 days. You are doing quite a bit in each session, by my calculations, it's more than 60 minutes of cardio, and that is certainly more than adequate. If you are not feeling tired, then you are not overtraining, though. The first sign of training too hard is that your performance and enthusiasm deteriorate drastically.

So, what might cause your weight plateau? That is hard to say, and i would be guessing. All I can do is offer a few ideas and then it's up to you to just persevere.

The first thing is the look at the time period - you have been training for about 5 weeks since the holiday, and what you may have to realise is that because of your success in losing 2.5 stone already, you may be approaching your ideal body weight, that's something I can't be sure of. If it is the case though, then it will be tough to lose more weight and you will have to train for much longer - everyone reaches this plateau. The first 5 kg are easy, the next 5 difficult and after that, it's often just about being patient and keeping it up.

also, it may help to increase the intensity and frequency somewhat. You see, the body burns most fat at about 80% of maximum, but the problem is that most people can's maintain 80% for long enough to burn much fat. Therefore, you have to settle on an intensity that you can maintain for 40 minutes or so, but that is also high enough to burn fat in fairly large amounts. You might be going at just too low an intensity to get the results. I'm not saying you should go out there and smash it every day, or you will overtrain, but perhaps cutting back on the duration, going to do about 45 minutes, but then upping the intensity slightly will pay off. Also, increasing from 3 days a week to 4 or 5 will make a large difference to your overall energy expenditure and metabolic rate, and so this is worth giving a try.

2. It is also important to do some weight training, as this will help to speed up your metabolism, increase muscle tone, and lose weight in the right areas. If you have access to a gym, ensure that you are shown how to do each exercise correctly, to prevent injuries.

Here are some general guidelines for weight training:

If your aim were to build muscle, the following guidelines will help you:
• Perform 6-10 reps at a high intensity - use a weight that you could lift 12 to 15 times
• Perform 3-4 sets
• Rest 30-60 seconds between reps
• Train each muscle group at least once or twice a week
• Allow 48 hours rest between each muscle’s workout

If your aim were to tone muscle, the following guidelines will help you:
• Perform 10-15 reps but at a much lower intensity - use a weight that would allow you to lift the weight at least 25 times.
• Perform 4-6 sets
• Rest 30-60 seconds between reps
• Train each muscle group at least once or twice a week
• Allow 48 hours rest between each muscle’s workout

3. Keep at it for longer. I'm not sure how long you tried for, but you often need to give it a good 2 to 3 months to see an effect.

4. Combine diet with exercise. Here are some basic dietary tips:

• Enjoy a variety of foods, this will enable you to obtain the essential nutrients you need.
• Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables daily
• Make starchy foods the basis of all meals - carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, pastas are a major source of energy to the body.
• Avoid food groups which are high in cholesterol - e.g. red meat, processed meat, sausages, egg yolks, fried or fatty foods
• Reduce amount of fat in your diet - e.g. use as little oil as possible (Olive oil is preferable to sunflower oil), reduce amount of margarine/butter, use 2% or Low Fat milk instead of full cream milk, avoid eating too much hard cheese (cottage cheese is preferable).
• Boil, grill, or steam your food instead of frying it
• Use salt sparingly as excessive salt is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.
• Drink at least 2 litres of water a day
• Reduce the amount of sugar, salt, sweets, crisps, chocolates, cakes in your diet
• Reduce amount of alcohol consumed

It is important to have 3-5 meals a day, and to try and cut out snacking during the day. Also, one should not eat a heavy meal too late at night, as this will slow down your metabolism. The above are merely guidelines and every individual is unique and they require specific things in their diet that others do not require. As Biokineticists, however, we are experts in the field of exercise prescription and not specific diets and nutrition. I would suggest that you contact a dietician in your area who will be able to help you with a personalized diet. If you need help locating a dietician in your area www.dietetics.co.za may help you. You need to look under PPD (Private Practice Dieticians).

I hope this helps you

GOod luck

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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