Ayurveda and Exercise: How Much is Too Much?

Is Exercise Good for You?

We are all told to exercise more. I suppose for many people this is a very good idea. We live in a mostly sedentary society and this has contributed to obesity. 1/3 of those in the US are obese. Another 1/3 are overweight. Only the remaining 1/3 are within their normal body weight.

Exercise provides many benefits. 

According to Ayurveda, exercise results in the lightness of the body, improved digestion, reduction of body fat and it creates a solid physique. But is exercise the answer for everyone? Apparently not. According to Ayurveda, those who suffer from a vata or pitta vitiation should avoid exercising. It’s also not recommended for those who are very young or very old. And finally, if your digestion is poor, it’s also recommended to not exercise. (See Ashtang Hrdayam, Sustrasthana, vs 10-14)
How is this possible? Think about it this way. 
Exercise is motion and motion increases vata dosha. If you already move quickly or too much (anxiety, nervousness) then exercise will make that worse. Exercise also increases heat and heat increases pitta dosha. This is why it increases digestion. But, if you have inflammation or burning indigestion, exercise can make it worse. Vata needs to move more slowly and cultivate stability. Pitta needs to slow down and cool down.

How much exercise is too much? 

Clearly, it is different for everyone. Those with a kapha nature or imbalance need the most exercise. Those with a vata or pitta nature/imbalance should minimize activity. Ayurveda teaches that those who are strong should exercise to half their capacity. This would be moderate exercise. Some say that this means only until a person starts to sweat. Perhaps but this is debatable. The point is clear. Running marathons is not generally beneficial for those with a vata nature. Competitive intense workouts are not so good for pitta dosha. Both benefit from moving in a slow, calm manner.
Exercise can be healthy. Too much is not healthy. Too little is not healthy. How much to exercise depends on your prakruti, vikruti, rogas (diseases), agni (digestion), and ojas (endurance), and this is affected by climate, age, season, and lifestyle. Nothing is right for everyone; everything is right for someone.