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Aquatic exercise can be a great low-impact workout, but spending hours on thousands of reps is silly.
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updated 8/5/2008 8:49:20 AM ET 2008-08-05T12:49:20

When it comes to exercise, can there be too much of a good thing? And can your period wreck your workout? Smart Fitness answers your questions.

Have an exercise question? To e-mail us, click here . We’ll post select answers in future columns.

Q: I’m a 62-year-old woman and I exercise every weekday morning in my hot tub, doing 2,000 forward bicycles, 2,000 reverse bicycles, 2,000 frog kicks and 2,000 reverse frog kicks. It takes me almost three hours. Am I doing too much exercise? I'm trying to lose weight this way because I have leg problems that keep me from doing any other type of exercise.

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A: We at Smart Fitness certainly do not want to discourage anyone who cares enough about exercise to devote so much time to it. But while your intentions are admirable, your approach could use some shaping up.

“My first comment is: Wow, how do you keep track of that many reps?” says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise in San Diego. “Secondly, I have a concern with heat illness (from exercising) in a hot tub for over three hours. I assume the temperature must be in the low 80s, but what about pruning of the skin?”

Then there is your important question of whether you are exercising too much. Usually this scenario refers to exercise addicts who are at risk for exhaustion and injury because they push themselves way too hard. But in your case, even though you’re spending a lot of time exercising, you’re probably not expending as much energy as you think.

“Given that she is buoyant in water, the ‘calorie cost’ is very small for her activities,” explains Comana. That’s why you’re able to keep going — and going — for three hours.

There’s a lingering misperception in fitness that if 20 repetitions of an exercise are good, then 200 — or 2,000 — must be better. But sometimes — such as when doing 4,000 frog kicks and another 4,000 bicycles consumes your entire morning — exercise may just not be worth that much time and effort. In fact, you may be pleasantly surprised to know you can restructure your program so that you actually work out for less time and get more bang for your buck.

Have you talked with a physician about what exercises you can do safely with your leg problems? (We can’t imagine many docs would recommend your current three-hour exercise plan, in a hot tub, no less.) Depending on the severity of the condition, people with arthritis and other leg issues often can participate in a walking program or use a stationary bike. Both of these exercises will burn calories faster and help you tone up more than your current fitness routine.

Another option is to find a swimming pool and engage in more challenging whole-body lap swimming or take an aquatic aerobics class.

If you stay with the hot tub (do ensure that it’s not too hot!), you could make the exercises more challenging, if your doctor allows, by increasing the resistance with water weights and other specially designed gear, notes Comana.

Increasing resistance will help you burn more calories, work your heart harder and tone your muscles better. So you’ll get a more efficient workout in, allowing you to get out of that hot tub faster — and get on with your day.

Q: I find that it can be difficult to maintain my desired fitness level around my monthly period. Do all women experience this? If so, what's the reason?

A: No, not all women find that their periods tend to wreck their workouts, says Danielle Day, an exercise physiologist at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell who studies exercise and the sexes .

“Your capacity for fitness should be the same,” she says. “It’s not like you lose muscle mass or your lung capacity changes at that time. It comes down to how you’re feeling, really.”

If you’re feeling lethargic around your period and you have heavy blood flow, there is a possible medical explanation: You may be experiencing anemia from all the blood loss. Women who suspect this should discuss it with their doctor, Day advises.

And of course, women with particularly bad PMS can feel pretty lousy and therefore not very jazzed for exercise. At these times, it’s OK to cut yourself some slack, Day says. If you’re up for exercise, consider an easier activity, such as walking.

You may even feel better afterward.

Jacqueline Stenson is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. A former senior health producer for msnbc.com, her work also has appeared in publications including the Los Angeles Times, Health, Shape, Women’s Health, Fit Pregnancy and Reuters Health.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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