The Hazards of Binge Exercising after the Holidays

Group of serious adults doing push-ups outdoors.
(Scott Griessel/Creatista / Scott Griessel - Fotolia)

January is filled with people resolving to live a healthier, more active lifestyle. In fact, many gyms make most of their money between January and February on new memberships (and often see a 40%-80% drop in attendance by March). Frequently, though, people are so preoccupied with numbers and sizes—dropping those 5-15 holiday pounds, for example—that they only focus on short-term results for what really should be a long-term solution.

The truth is that fitness is a lifestyle and not something that should be a binge activity. Why?

Binge exercising can actually be harmful to your vein and heart health. Other hazards of binge exercising are an increased chance of sustaining injury, especially when coming off a stretch of inactivity.

Does this sound familiar? You resolve to get in shape, so you join a fitness boot camp. They have a plan that gives you some kind of rebate if you lose a certain amount of weight in the first week. You are pushed to binge exercise (and binge diet). The problem?

Sudden bursts of extended (binge) exercising are hard on your muscles, which haven’t been trained slowly to be in shape. The same problem is true for people who set a goal to run a marathon for the first time. You don’t become a marathon runner to get in shape; you have to train slowly, over a period of time, to build up to becoming a marathon runner. You can’t binge exercise over a few months to get in shape and be healthy.

Binge exercising is like overdosing on exercise. A lot of scientific research has been conducted on the effects of binge exercising on health because of the recent trends in boot camps and marathon and triathlon participation.

For most people, workouts should be low impact and should not last for more than 45 minutes at a time in order to be the most effective with the fewest health hazards.

Cardiovascular activity improves the oxygenation in your blood, your body’s ability to detoxify, your endorphin levels, and can boost your immune system, all while getting your heart to pump more efficiently through your cardiovascular system. However, binge exercising—heavy activity sustained for considerably more than 45 minutes, not only decreases the rates of these benefits but can actually do harm to your body.

For one thing, binge exercising can cause your body to break down your tissues, also known as going into a catabolic state. Your immune system may be weakened, in part because of the release of excessive cortisol, which in some cases can lead to chronic disease. Sustained binge exercising can lead to microscopic tears in your muscles, which won’t heal if binge exercising continues. And working out too late in the day and for too long can lead to insomnia.

But the greatest potential threat of binge exercising is the effect it can have on your heart’s health.

Remember, the heart is a muscle as well as the center of your vascular system. Overtraining for activities such as marathons or triathlons can put the heart under extremely high stress. Endurance runners experience greater scarring on the heart tissue (this is especially acute for middle-aged men). Part of the reason for this is that extensive cardiovascular exercise causes high oxidative stress, as well as inflammation—and all of these can potentially trigger cardiac

arrest. Recent extensive research even shows notably higher instances in endurance runners of calcified plaque in their arteries, as well as more detectable scar tissue on their heart muscles and decreased right ventricular systolic function. When the heart is repeatedly damaged, the muscle tissue experiences inflammation, which causes the plaque formation in order to plaster the inflamed arteries as protection.

That is why recovery time is so important. Cardio exercise is ideal for healthy circulation and heart function, but in moderation. Your muscles and vascular system need time to heal properly between workouts, and binge exercising, for beginners and for seasoned athletes, is not the solution, for either the post-holiday regime or for a long-term healthy athletic lifestyle.

At SD Vein Institute, we believe in total vascular health. For information on laser treatment or sclerotherapy, contact us at 760-944-9263 or visit our website at