Why You May Want to Workout Less (and Move More)

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When it comes to working out it is common for people to assume that the more we work out the more results we will see. However, rest is a key factor in seeing results, and studies show that working out less, and moving more, may actually be better for achieving long term weight loss goals.

In fact, working out more sometimes results in overtraining, which can be a detriment to your progress and your health. You may see that you stop burning as many calories, that your metabolism and hormones are negatively affected, and that you experience more injuries. You may even start to resent exercising.

Choosing to incorporate more movement into your day rather than more exercise is a swap we can make in our fitness routines that can contribute to us seeing better outcomes. Here are some evidence-based reasons why you may want to move more rather than exercise more.

How to Increase Overall Daily Movement

Amanda Butler, CPT, a certified personal trainer and wellness coach suggests getting in mini walks throughout the day. She also suggests parking farther away at the grocery store, walking instead of driving, and taking the stairs.

"A little goes a long way and anyway you can add a little more movement throughout your day, all adds up," she says. "If you work from home, set a timer to get up and move around more often. It's actually better to move more throughout your day then just focusing the main bulk of your movement around a 45-min workout session."

Oftentimes, when we get in an intense workout, we work hard for that moment, and then we have very little movement the rest of the day. Being sedentary other than during our workouts, is not an effective approach to exercise. More movement through the day may result in better weight loss maintenance.

To determine whether you are working out too much or simply not moving enough, you may want to look at your workouts and schedule. Write down how you feel during and after the workout. You also should be recording your movement throughout the day. Take time to notice your personal patterns when it comes to movement and exercise so that you can gradually decrease (or increase) your movement over time.

Working Out More May Not Increase Calorie Burn

The relationship to working out and calorie burn may not be what you think. Studies show that when people were engaged in a higher than moderate activity level, their energy expenditure hits a plateau. They are also show that the higher the activity level was, the more inversely related to total energy expenditure it became.

"As a society, we have been taught for a long time that extremes are better," says Butler. "Working out harder is better, working out more is better, eating less is better, restriction is the only way—when in fact this has caused a lot of damage to us mentally and physically."

She adds that working out is very stressful on the body and causes our cortisol to rise. "A little bit of cortisol is great for the body and forces it to change, but consistent over-exercising forces cortisol levels to be too high and our bodies to remain in a state of fight or flight."

Not only will you experience adverse effects from overtraining, but it can sometimes cause weight gain as well. Moderate exercise four to five days a week is enough to create ample amounts of stress on the body to see results, she says.

Working Out More Might Do More Harm Than Good

We all know that physical activity is good for us, but there is evidence showing that higher doses of physical activity can be harmful. A link has been established between high levels of physical activity and cardiovascular diseases.

In fact, one study indicates that there may be a point at which high doses of aerobic exercise might reduce the health benefits of moderate exercise. Over-exercising may even lead to cardiotoxicity." Butler indicates that when she implemented working out less and moving more into her own life, she experienced much less inflammation and fatigue.

"[Before], I was always exhausted, barely getting through my days and now I feel energized and empowered leaving workouts," she says. "I always knew I was pushing myself too hard but felt like it was what I was supposed to be doing."

She adds that she now listens to her body and incorporates cycle-syncing when she can. Cycle-syncing involves syncing your workouts to your menstrual cycle to optimize energy levels and move in a way that is beneficial to your body.

"I enjoy slower workouts," Butler says. "But when I have the energy, I love being able to push super hard in the gym when I know my body is capable."

Working Out More May Disrupt Metabolism

Exercise has a direct relationship to your metabolism, with excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) being responsible for increasing your metabolism after a workout. Your body is working hard, and oxygen exists through the muscles in your body. In order for your body to return to homeostasis, your body must work harder, thus, increasing your metabolism.

With normal levels of training, your metabolism will respond as it should. People who exercise too much may run the risk of affecting their metabolism negatively. Research shows overtraining induces inflammation, which may cause reduced food intake and body weight gain. Excessive training can inhibit the appetite, which affects the maintenance of proper blood glucose levels for specific organs, for example, the brain.

Working Out More May Make Exercise Less Enjoyable

Exercise is most beneficial when you enjoy it. But, just like anything else, sometimes when we over-do exercise, the less enjoyable it becomes.

The National Institute on Aging suggests keeping exercise interesting and enjoyable by mixing things up. One way to break up the monotony in your activity and bring back enjoyment is to incorporate more movement through the day to prevent boredom with your exercise routine.

Working Out More May Impact Hormones

Many of our systems are affected by the process of overtraining. Your immune system in particular, is highly susceptible to degradation from overtraining which can result in a reduction in overall health and performance. Because of this, it is important to monitor training load, as well as your stress levels. There is also a strong correlation to overtraining and hormones—specifically in females.

"Women, unfortunately, cannot work out the same as men," she says. "Not to say we are not physically strong enough or capable, but more because our hormones play a vital part in our healthy regulation of our endocrine system. Exercising in excess can severely disrupt our hormone levels (estrogen/testosterone), resulting in loss of or irregular periods, hair loss, fatigue, mood swings, [and more] and can also lead to greater issues such adrenal fatigue, thyroid disorders, and weakened immune systems."

Butler shares that due to years of overtraining along with her use of birth control, she stopped having a menstrual cycle for 1 1/2 years. Now, she is dealing with Hashimoto's, an autoimmune disorder affecting your thyroid.

Working Out More May Increase Injury

One of the most prominent results of excessive exercise is injury. There is only so much stress you can put on your body before you start to see negative effects.

High load-bearing activities such as running, military drills, and aerobic exercise have a greater chance of resulting in injury. In fact, stress fractures make up between 1% and 20% of all athletic injuries. You are much less likely to see injuries in daily movement.

Exercise Recommendations

Though you don't want to overtrain, exercise is still vitally important. Studies show that not only is physical inactivity one of the greatest threats to your health, but that low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness may be one of the strongest risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for substantial health benefits. Implementing more movement through the day is a great way to reach these guidelines.

A Word From Verywell

Physical activity is important to our overall wellbeing. However, there is such a thing as too much. It is important that we maintain frequent daily movement in our lives, which may actually be more beneficial to us.

Too much exercise can result in injuries, hormone and metabolic imbalances, and lack of enjoyment in exercise. Not to mention, you may not actually be burning the calories you think you are in order to achieve a sustainable weight loss.

Try adding more movement into your day like taking the stairs, tending to a garden, parking further from your destination, and being more intentional about getting up and moving around after long periods of being seated. Your body will thank you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between exercise and movement?

    Exercise is a more structured activity, where as movement can be anything that gets you up and moving during the day. Daily activities like doing the laundry and washing the dishes are all considered movement, but would not be considered exercise.

  • Why is movement more important than exercise?

    Movement is linked to short-term weight loss and better long-term weight maintenance than exercise alone. This phenomenon is beneficial for those with limited time for a scheduled exercise routine.

  • What are the benefits of moving more?

    Moving more throughout the day is beneficial for sustainable weight loss. It also helps keep you from overtraining, and the negative aspects that come along with that such as, hormone and metabolism disruption, and injury.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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