While exercise in moderation is essential for good health, the effects of too much exercise are overwhelmingly negative: fatigue, muscle loss, stress injuries, heart failure, and a weakened immune system are only a few of the consequences of pushing things too far. Sometimes, the effects of too much exercise manifest themselves as exercise addictions or compulsions. More often, however, the effects of too much exercise are subtle. The body slowly breaks down and loses strength over time, which usually culminates in a serious injury or organ failure.
What exercise gives the body, it can also take away if not properly balanced. For instance, moderate cardiovascular exercise has been proved to strengthen the heart and improve its ability to efficiently pump blood throughout the body. Too much heart-pumping exercise can wear the heart down, however. A heart that is asked to do too much for too long has an increased likelihood of weakening, or failing altogether.
The same is true with respect to muscle mass. Overexercise can cause the body to cannibalize its own muscle to use as fuel when none is otherwise available. This can lead to muscle loss and dangerously low body fat. In women, too much exercise often leads to amenorrhea, which can profoundly affect fertility.
Healthy proportions of both muscle and fat are required for the body to function optimally. Being toned and in shape does not mean having no fat, or wearing down all visible muscles. When muscles are weakened, repetitive stress injuries and stiffness and soreness in joints are likely to follow.
Chemical imbalance is another negative effect of too much exercise. Healthy bodies typically secrete certain chemicals during a moderate workout, including adrenaline and cortisol. Both of these are stimulants that help make muscle movements more efficient. Exercising too much, or pushing the body too hard for too long, can result in extraneous buildup of these substances. Too much adrenaline or cortisol in the blood can cause stress, insomnia, and lack of focus in day-to-day activities.
For some people, exercising too much is a compulsion. Compulsive exercise, also called exercise addiction, is believed by many mental health professionals to be a type of psychosomatic disorder. Particularly in young people, compulsive exercise often goes hand-in-hand with eating disorders.
Compulsive exercise as an addiction or mental condition is different than simply over-training. Celebrities, athletes, and exercise aficionados from all walks of life are at risk of over-training if they take more from the body than they give. A balanced exercise regimen requires proper food, adequate rest, and a variety of activities targeting different muscle groups in order to allow the body to recover between workouts.