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How too much Exercise Affects the Gut – the Dangers of Overtraining

There is no question that physical exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. The benefits of exercise, especially for prevention of chronic diseases, are well documented. A number of studies have also shown that exercise improves psychological well-being and mood as well as resilience to stress. But is it possible to have too much of a good thing when it comes to exercise? 

According to a recent study published in Science Daily, the answer is yes. Researchers discovered that increasing the intensity and duration of your workout increases your risk of gut damage. The intense physiological stress on the body can trigger Leaky Gut Syndrome – a condition in which the gut lining weakens, resulting in the passage of germs and toxins into the bloodstream.  Leaky gut can cause chronic or acute health problems - probably not what you were looking for when you started to hit the gym.

How much Exercise is too much?

The tipping point for gut issues seems to be exercising for two or more hours at 60 percent VO2max. (60 percent of VO2max means that a person is exercising at 60 percent of their maximum capacity to utilize oxygen—in other words: at a pretty strenuous pace). High temperatures also raise the likelihood that exercisers will experience such problems.

The researchers are careful not to dissuade people from ever engaging in strenuous exercise—nor do the researchers recommend that individuals struggling with GI issues avoid exercising. They do, however, caution exercisers to be aware of the potential risks inherent in pushing oneself too hard for too long (for more than two hours, especially in heat). And while they recommend that folks with GI problems stay away from this extreme exercise, they do point to evidence in their review that low to moderate levels of physical activity can help individuals struggling with GI issues to manage their symptoms.

So what’s the take home? If you’re following a protocol to restore your gut health, working out too hard might be holding you back from healing as much as you can. This doesn’t mean that you can’t reap the benefits of moderate exercise—you can! But it does mean that you should be aiming for slow, steady progress, and make sure to take adequate rest days between workouts and monitor the intensity level.