How Much Cardio Is Too Much Cardio?

Cardio exercises are great exercises for staying fit and keeping weight off.

They burn a decent number of calories, even at a moderate pace, improve heart health, and help shed fat.

But like most things in life (yes, even things that are good for you), there is an upper limit of how much cardio you should do.

You should avoid doing cardio more than 60 minute/day.

If you are overtraining, cardio can actually be detrimental to your health and well-being.

It can make you cranky, achy, and counteract your health and fitness efforts.

So, if you’ve been feeling tired, sore, or depressed after your cardio sessions, it’s time to consider the possibility you may be overdoing it.

How Cardio Can Go Wrong

man clutches chest after a run

There are a couple of ways in which cardio can be too much:

1 – If it negatively impacts your health.

2 – If it interferes with your fitness goals.

Too Much Cardio Can Have a Detrimental Effect On Your Health

Cardio strengthens your heart. That’s what makes it so good for you.

Enough cardio exercise protects you from heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and dozens of other conditions and diseases.

But you CAN have too much of a good thing.

Several studies have found too much strenuous exercise (specifically cardio exercise) can undo the goods gained through exercise and actually make it more likely you will suffer a heart attack or die an early death.

One 2017 study found people who exercised at three times the recommended amount (150 min./week) of exercise for heart health, or 450 minutes/week, were more likely to have plaque build-up in their hearts (27% more likely, in fact).

In the same study, those who exercised less than the recommended amount for heart health (150 min./week) were more likely to develop high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.

The people who fared best in the study were those who met the minimum guidelines for exercise, but didn’t greatly exceed them.

Other studies have shown similar results, that those who engage in more strenuous exercise or too much exercise have worse outcomes than those who engage in moderate exercise or stick within exercise limits.

While these studies are not all-conclusive, they do indicate moderation may be key to good health.

Too Much Cardio Can Cost You Muscular Gains

The other way cardio can affect your health and fitness is directly connected to your muscles.

Cardio helps burn fat and calories, which is why it is such a popular form of exercise for those looking to stay fit or to lose weight.

But it can also burn muscle.

If you do too much cardio exercise on too little fuel, you send your body into a stressed state in which it starts digging into muscle stores for energy.

You can counteract this somewhat by consuming enough calories and protein to fuel your workout, but it is very much a balancing act.

Keeping your cardio workouts at a reasonable quantity throughout the week (less than 60 min./day, which keeps you within the threshold of when cardio starts doing damage to the heart) is the easiest way to ensure you don’t lose muscle along with fat.

How much cardio is too much for building muscle?

Again, it’s a balancing act, but avoid doing cardio more than 60 min./day.

And, if you don’t need to lose weight, the 150 recommended minutes of moderate cardio exercise per week is sufficient for most health gains.

How much cardio is too much for weight loss?

The other problem that can occur when you overdo cardio is that you can hit a plateau in your weight loss.

This happens for two reasons –

  1. You start to burn muscle, which lowers your metabolism and causes you to burn fewer calories throughout the day.
  2. Your body adapts to the energy demands of these intense or long workouts and starts storing more fat.

That’s why moderate cardio (that which keeps you in your fat-burn instead of your cardio zone) is actually better for weight-loss than more strenuous cardio.

Knowing You’re Doing Too Much Cardio

Despite there being some rules best abided by everyone (like three times the amount of recommended cardio is too much), all bodies are different and people’s thresholds for workouts differ.

So, the key to knowing if you’re doing too much cardio is to pay attention to your own body.

Personally, I find 300 min./week of cardio in a combination of moderate (fat-loss zone) to higher-intensity (cardio-zone) to be about my limit.

If I go too much above this (start to top 350 minutes), I typically notice things that suck like:

  • Continuing fatigue
  • A lot more aches and pains
  • Bad mood/Depression

While all that’s quite enough to make me pull back on my workouts, too much cardio can also cause:

  • Stress to the body, including an increase in cortisol levels (which lowers your immune system and makes you more susceptible to illness and disease)
  • Marked decrease in performance
  • An inability to burn fat

woman on exercise bike

Am I overexercising?

If you’re asking the question “Am I overexercising?,” there is probably a reason you’re asking, so the answer is most likely ‘yes’.

If you feel overly exhausted, continuously sore, your mood plummets, or you aren’t performing at the same level, you are likely working out too much.

Cut back on those minutes (or lower your level of intensity) and see if your workouts don’t leave you feeling energized once more instead of totally wiped.

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