We often hear about the importance of getting enough exercise.
Numerous studies have shown a range of concerning physical and mental health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.
Consequently, there are guidelines in place for how much aerobic exercise you should be getting every week to help reduce the risk of these lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
But, can you do too much cardio? Is too much cardio bad for you? How much is too much cardio?
In this article, we will discuss whether too much cardio is bad for you and common signs to help you determine how much cardio is too much cardio.
We will cover the following:
- Can You Do Too Much Cardio?
- How Much Cardio Is Too Much Cardio?
- Common Signs That You’re Doing Too Much Cardio
Let’s dive in!
Can You Do Too Much Cardio?
When most people think about healthy behaviors such as sleep, exercise, and eating enough fruits and vegetables, they only think about the minimum requirements for overall health.
However, there are often adverse consequences to getting too much of a “good thing.“
For example, in terms of sleep, adults should get 7–9 hours of sleep every night for optimal health, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
So, you might think that getting more than 9 hours of sleep is even better, but studies have found the opposite to be true: sleeping too much is associated with an increased risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, as well as an increased risk of all-cause mortality.
The same principle applies to exercise and cardio exercise specifically.
In other words, the short answer to: “Can you do too much cardio exercise?“ and “Is too much cardio bad for you?“ is yes—you can do too much cardio such that it will have a negative impact on your fitness goals, body composition, and potentially even your overall health.
In short, there is a limit to how much cardio exercise you should be doing, and it is certainly possible to do too much cardio based on your particular goals and physical needs.
How Much Cardio Is Too Much Cardio?
While it was easy to answer the questions can you do too much cardio exercise and is too much cardio exercise bad for you with a simple yes, it is not nearly as straightforward to answer the question: how much cardio is too much cardio?
At a minimum, adults should aim to meet the guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation.
These guidelines state that adults need to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week.
The upper limit of how much cardio exercise you should be doing varies from person to person based on numerous factors.
The recommendations for the maximum amount of cardio exercise you should be doing will depend on the interplay of these various factors in your own personal circumstances, such as:
- Your fitness level
- The type of cardio you are doing
- The intensity of your workouts
- Your stress tolerance and overall workout routine
- Your diet
- Your sleep
- The length of your cardio workouts
Common Signs That You’re Doing Too Much Cardio
Because it is difficult to make universal guidelines regarding how much cardio is too much cardio, there are certain symptoms and signs that you’re doing too much cardio.
If you notice you are experiencing any of these signs, you should cut back and consider deliberately taking several days off in order to recover and then re-establish a healthier, more moderate approach to how much cardio exercise you are doing.
Here are some of the top signs that you are overdoing cardio exercise:
#1: Chronic Muscle Soreness
Although delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which refers to tightness and muscle discomfort 24 to 72 hours after a hard workout, is normal every so often, if you are always sore or frequently sore or you never seem to get rid of your muscle soreness before it comes back after another workout, you’re probably doing too much cardio.
Frequent or constant muscle soreness is particularly indicative of excessive cardio if you are getting sore or achy, even when you are doing exercise or workouts you are accustomed to.
In other words, muscle soreness is expected if you try a new type of exercise or deliberately do a more intense workout, but if you run regularly and find that you are feeling sore most of the time after your running workout, you are probably running too often or too much and your body is not recovering well.
#2: Higher Resting Heart Rate
Tracking your resting heart rate is a great biomarker to assess whether you are overtraining and doing too much cardio.
An elevation in your typical average heart rate is a sign that you are not recovering well and your body is under stress, pointing to the fact that you are doing too much cardio exercise with insufficient recovery.
#3: Easy Workouts Feel Hard
If you are a runner and you find that your easy runs are starting to feel tiring, you are probably teetering on the edge of overtraining.
The same can be said for any form of cardio exercise.
When easy workouts feel harder than they should be, your body is not recovering enough, and you need to cut back on your cardio.
4: Joint Pain
Particularly if you are doing high-impact cardio, such as running or jumping rope, joint pain after your workout can be a sign that you are overdoing it.
Even with low-impact cardio exercise, if the activity is repetitive, such as cycling, rowing, or the elliptical machine, joint discomfort can be a sign of doing too much.
#5: Lack of Motivation
If you don’t feel like working out despite generally being in a routine that involves consistent exercise, it’s likely a sign that you are doing too much exercise and are tired from all the training.
Mental burnout and mental fatigue are signs of overreaching in your exercise routine.
Heed the sign and take a few days off and then reevaluate how much cardio exercise you are doing every week with the notion that you probably need to reduce your weekly cardio volume.
#6: Difficulty Sleeping
While getting regular aerobic exercise can be beneficial for improving the quality of your sleep, if you are exercising too much, it will impact your sleep and lead to restlessness, difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and waking up in the morning not feeling very rested.
Excessive cardio exercise increases your resting heart rate, body temperature, and cortisol levels, disrupting your ability to reach deeper stages of sleep.
#7: Low Energy
As can likely be surmised, if you are feeling generally lethargic and like you are dragging yourself through your day because you lack energy, it’s a good sign that you are doing too much exercise.
Your body only has a limited amount of energy to feel vibrant during the day, and cardio workouts can eat up a lot of this energy, leaving you zapped for the rest of your day.
#8: You’re Getting Sick a Lot
Overtraining can depress your immune system, causing you to get colds and other illnesses more frequently.
#9: Your Appetite Is Increasing
Doing too much cardio will increase your cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone in the body.
Studies suggest that higher levels of cortisol may stimulate appetite and increase body fat storage, particularly in the abdominal area.
#10: You’re Gaining Weight
As just mentioned, over-exercising will increase cortisol to detrimental levels, which can increase body fat storage.
Additionally, a sign of exercising too much is a decrease in lean body mass.
The body will start to metabolize, or break down, muscle tissue, particularly if you are not fueling your body with enough calories, high-quality protein, carbohydrates after your workouts, and vitamins and minerals.
As can be seen, there are quite a number of counterproductive problems that can arise from doing too much cardio exercise.
The risk of injuries, chronic overtraining, habitual soreness and stiffness, illnesses, muscle loss, fat gain, chronic low energy, and poor sleep are among some of the many consequences associated with doing too much cardio exercise with too little recovery.
Keeping a workout log and monitoring your resting heart rate, energy levels, muscle soreness, and body weight can be helpful in assessing if you’re doing too much cardio exercise and determining how much is too much cardio for you.
To learn more about the different types of exercise you should be performing as part of a well-rounded fitness routine, check out our guide to the five components of health-related fitness here.