Not Just Your Body, Excessive Exercise Can Tire Your Brain Too

01 Feb 2020

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Physical exercise is great and everything but sometimes laziness tends to get the best of us. Look around you, everyone is always coming up with excuses to not go to the gym. Well, we have one that’s pretty legit, so you can definitely add it to your long-growing list of excuses.

Here it goes – too much exercise can tire your brain out! Yes, we’re just as surprised as you are. Turns out that apart from sore muscles, excessive exercise can tire out your brain too… to the point that you have trouble processing information and making decisions.

The Study

A study published last year in the journal Current Biology highlights that excessive exercise can result in mental fatigue in addition to physical fatigue [1]. The researchers looked at the training load on triathletes and found that the ones who exerted themselves to the point of exhaustion appeared more impulsive in tests that evaluated financial decision-making, going for immediate rewards instead of larger ones that would take more time to achieve. 

For the study, the researchers had 37 male endurance athletes either continue normal training or increase training 40% a session over three weeks. Functional MRIs showed that overloaded athletes had a slower response in the lateral prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain that processes information and controls behavior.

How It Works

Essentially, what the study discovered was the fact that the brain is affected by excessive physical exercise in the same way as it would be by something mental and intellectual such as studying before an exam. Overtraining results in reduced activity in the area of the brain important for making decisions. Therefore, like the athletes in the study conducted, your decision-making skills are likely hampered. 

What It Does

Now you may wonder, how much is too much? Moderation is the key here. It’s good to keep moving and working out regularly, but it is important to give the body and mind enough time to recover. In their zeal to stay fit, people often tend to overdo. Remember to listen to your body and take a rest day when needed. Here are 6 signs that you should look out for.

1. Mental Fatigue And Mood Changes: Depression, anxiety, and irritability are common when you’re over-exercising. Excessive exercise can impact the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine, resulting in mood swings and anxiety. As mentioned above, training overload can also affect the brain’s ability to process information and make decisions.

2. Insomnia: Excessive exercise causes the sympathetic nervous system to go into overdrive as it assumes it is required to constantly provide energy to the body. This results in restlessness and difficulty falling or staying asleep. As the body requires quality sleep and nutrition to recover, insomnia tends to affect workout performance and may lead to burnout.

 

3. Exhaustion: If you feel like no amount of coffee or ginger tea can shake you from your reverie of exhaustion, chances are you are overtraining. When you overtrain, your body ends up devoting most of the energy towards recovery. This results in a perpetual feeling of exhaustion and fatigue. When your body has not had the chance to recover from your previous workout sessions, you are prone to injury and inflammation. Moreover, exhaustion affects your performance, which may lead to plateauing.

4. Reduced Appetite: A decrease in appetite is one of the most common symptoms of overtraining. Your body needs fuel to keep recover and repair itself. A loss in appetite only leads to further exhaustion, fatigue, and even injuries as the body is not getting enough nutrients. 

5. Decreased Performance: Over-exercising can lead to burnout which often results in a drop in your workout performance. When your body is constantly fatigued, your fitness levels are bound to take a toll. Some people even experience plateauing as the body is overworked and has not had the opportunity to recover.

6. Weakened Immune System: While regular exercise can help ward off the cold and flu, too much of it can weaken and compromise the immune system. When you are over-exercise, your body remains in a constant state of stress and fatigue. The energy that is needed to keep the immune system functioning properly is instead used to repair the overworked muscles.

 References:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S096098221931104

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