Too Much Exercise
Exercise has great benefits for your mind and body. It helps keep you fit and reduces the risk of developing certain conditions, like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
However, some young adults do exercise too much, pushing themselves too hard, often to the point of feeling exhausted or physically sick.
- Causes of Compulsive Exercising
- Risk of Over-Exercising
- Signs of Compulsive Exercise
- How to Get Help
Causes of Compulsive Exercising
An exercise regimen that begins with good intentions can become compulsive when done for the wrong reasons.
- Weight loss carried to an extreme: Many people exercise to lose weight. When done in moderation, exercise is an important part of most weight loss plans.
However, some young adults hold themselves to unrealistic ideals, which can lead to extreme dieting and exercising. In this case exercise is used to "burn off" calories eaten in a day. This can be unhealthy and harmful to your body, leading to undernourishment and even injuries.
- Stress management gone awry: Exercise is an effective stress-management technique, but too much is unhealthy. In this case, exercise is used to try regaining control over or escaping from a stressful situation.
An extreme amount of exercise will not solve the problem, and may even aggravate the situation if your body gets overtired. Plus, more time spent at the gym means there is less time available to do other things.
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Risk of Over-Exercising
You already know that if you are not getting enough physical activity, you may be at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle. What you may not know is that over-exercise itself causes problems.
If you are over-exercising, you are probably not giving your body all the nutrients it needs, especially if you are also restricting your diet. This will cause you to lose both muscle and fat.
If your body is not getting enough time to rest and recuperate, you are at a greater risk for injuries such as stress fractures and muscle strains. Some young adults may even need joint replacement, even in their twenties, because of too much wear and tear on their muscles and bones.
As a young adult, your body is still growing and developing, so it is important to nourish it correctly. If you are over-exercising you may be hindering normal development. For example, women who over-exercise and/or eat an overly restrictive diet may stop having periods and develop osteoporosis.
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Signs of Compulsive Exercise
If you are concerned about your own exercise habits, there are several questions you can ask yourself. If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, you may be over-exercising.
- Force yourself to exercise, even if you are feeling sick?
- Place exercise above your other important responsibilities?
- Get distraught if you miss a workout?
- Worry that you will gain weight if you miss one workout?
- Have trouble sitting still because you don't think you have exercised enough or burned enough calories?
- Force yourself to exercise even when your muscles are incredibly sore?
- Constantly feel sore from exercise you have been doing, especially in your joints such as knees, hips, and shoulders?
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How to Get Help
If you notice that you may be exercising compulsively, try to slowly cut down the amount you exercise. You could take an extra day off every week, or shave a few minutes off your daily exercise. You could even cut your workout 15 minutes short and use that time to stretch.
If you are having trouble cutting back your exercise and you feel scared, guilty, or angry about missing even a few minutes of your daily exercise, it is time to get help. Talk to a counselor, your parents, a coach, or another trusted adult. Compulsive exercise can cause serious or permanent health damage.
Compulsive exercise is often closely related to eating disorders. If you think you may have a problem beyond exercise, check for signs of eating disorders, and talk to your doctor. There are many community agencies that help individuals deal with eating disorders.
As with most things in life, remember, moderation is key!
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- Jen Hawkins, public health education intern
- Nicole Aguirre,
college writer (Stanford ’12)
Reviewed By: Melissa Raby, R.N.
& Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: July 2, 2013