How Much (Stress) is Too Much? Training, Work, Life…It All Adds Up.

How much running is too much running?

Actually, it’s a question I get asked quite a bit.

We all know getting regular exercise, and ideally, a balance of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility can make up the perfect balance to promote optimal health and fitness.

But at what point does something good cross the line into something that may be doing us harm?

Performance and result-oriented focal points aside, when we consider our health and begin to explore the markers indicating chronic damage to our systems, we have to take a broader position and factor in the lifelong health we want to maintain and enjoy, above and beyond winning a race (even if it does happen to be a race in the Olympics!)

Case in point: an article in the Sports Section of yesterday’s Sunday Times[1] illustrates top Marathon runner Ryan Hall’s decision to retire, due to “chronically low testosterone and extreme fatigue”.

Hall, who holds the fastest American male runner’s time at the Boston Marathon of 2:04:55, has officially announced that due to fatigue so intense, he can sometimes barely execute 12 easy miles per week, that he realizes, after two decades in the sport, how he’s “explored every issue to get back to the level I’ve been at, and my body is not responding. I realized that it was time to stop striving, to finally be satisfied and decide, mission accomplished. 

While Hall is clearly in a league of his own when compared to those of us who either race competitively as a fun hobby or simply get in enough exercise to keep healthy, the common thread is knowing how and when that fine line between performing, training and eating crosses from healthy to dangerous.

Adrenal fatigue is becoming more and more common, and not in just high performance athletes.

Adrenal fatigue is a term that’s used by some to say that fatigue and other symptoms are caused by a poorly working adrenal gland in people who are under mental, emotional, or physical stress[2].

Oddly enough though, it’s not a proven medical condition.

Adrenal glands make hormones; one of these is cortisol, which helps your body deal with stress.

According to the adrenal fatigue theory, if your life is too stressful, your adrenal glands may not pump out enough hormones, leading to a wide variety of symptoms which can include trouble getting out of bed, chronic tiredness, even after you wake up in the morning and trouble thinking clearly or finishing your tasks.

While there are certainly other health concerns that can cause the same symptoms, if you’re suspecting an issue, it’s worth a visit to your naturopath, functional medicine doctor or incredibly forward thinking MD.

Dr. James Wilson has studied the topic extensively and has not only written a book[3] on the subject, he’s also developed an online questionnaire to take if you suspect you’re dealing with this health challenge.

It all comes down to not only how much stress you have in your life, but how resilient you are at dealing with it.

Remember, stress is stress, good or bad, and we can all only take so much of it.

I like the stress bucket analogy; it can only hold so much water (stress) before it begins to overflow.

Busy job, not enough sleep, financial stress…and extreme physical activity (or perhaps I should rephrase; physical activity that would not typically feel extreme but when burning the candle at both ends, it changes the equation)…all contribute to the total sum we can withstand and then…whoosh!

Tune in to what your body is telling you and figure out if something isn’t quite right before it gets to the point of no return.

Don’t try to toughen up, drink more of those awful energy drinks and chalk it up to being a stronger person.

Balance is key here, and not confusing being mindful and responsible with the feeling you’re being wimpy or not ‘tough enough’ is crucial!

[1] Crouse, Lindsay. “His Strength Sapped, Top Marathoner Ryan Hall Decides to Stop.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2016

[2] Feature, Eric Metcalf MPHWebMD. “Adrenal Fatigue: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016

[3] Wilson, James L. Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Petaluma, CA: Smart Publications, 2001. Print