The health industry is all about more more more when it comes to exercise. More intense, more weight, more time, more muscle and on and on and on. This makes sense as we live in a epidemic of sedentary living which has a myriad of negative effects on the body but just because exercise is good, does that mean a lot of it is better?
People who exercise regularly report feeling healthy, motivated, more energetic, less stressed and able to sleep better at night. What happens though when your love for the treadmill or the clink of the weight rack starts making you feel worse?
Is this even possible? Could your training be depleting your health?
Yes, and its called over-exercising.
Hold up, you can be too healthy? You can exercise too much?
That's right and it's not just an inconsequential act, over-exercising can be and often is worse than under-exercising having detrimental affects to your health. Compulsive exerciser, exercise addicts, gym junkies, athletes, these are all names for people who could be excessively exercising.
A compulsive exerciser is someone who feels compelled to exercise a certain way at a certain time usually everyday. They report feeling anxious or stressed if they miss a work out and often will cancel plans with loved ones in order to get in their gym time. They don't know what they would do without exercise as it provides such a beneficial mental release which they keep on going back for time and time again even though their body is failing them. They push through because they believe they have to, that they are weak if they don't.
Many people surprisingly fall into this category as the negative effects of too much are rarely talked about.
So, what are the signs of over-exercising?
- Ammenhorea or lack of menses
- Disinterest in exercise
- Refusal to have rest days
- Rigidity, inflexibility regarding exercise schedule
-Exercise is the only coping mechanism for stress
- Deprives self of food if unable to exercise
-Rarely takes part in exercise for fun like hiking, kayaking etc. as these workouts aren't "good enough"
-Feel compelled to exercise even though they don't want to
-Delayed recovery time between workouts
-Lack of performance during activity
These are just the signs that you may be over-exercising, now the effects of this on your body in the long run are;
- Elevated cortisol levels which interferes with the bodies ability to build bones, immunity, inflammation and leads to chronic disease. .
- Inability to get pregnant. With out a period women can find it hard or impossible to get pregnant and start their family.
-Osteoporosis- No period means lack of bone health as there is a dip in oestrogen levels making you susceptible to bone fractures.
-Impaired digestion- When your body is under stress your digestive system will begin to shut down making you fell bloated and or constipated. Chronic mal-digestion makes it difficult for you body to absorb nutrients leading to malnutrition.
When I was in my addiction to exercise I refused to admit that that was the problem. After all I loved my exercise regime and could not fathom stopping. After years of pushing myself though to the point of break down I learned first hand the negative effects of pushing my body too hard. Instead of building my body up through exercise I was breaking it down and damaging my cells. I was the most unhappy, obsessive, rigid, anti-social person I knew because my training was what was most important to me, not other experiences and relationships. I would spend hours and hours a day exercising and never put the negative symptoms I was experiencing like no period, night sweats, low mood and hair loss to my love of the gym.
I had to step away from the gym multiple times to regain my strength, heal my body and replenish my muscles. This sometimes took a couple weeks, and other times it meant taking a good 6 months off of the gym. I focused on doing things like walking, yoga and hiking, replacing light movement with my intense exercise regimes. At first I struggled with it, but eventually I came to peace with this moment in my life to rest. I was able to lower the stress in my body, grow back my hair, regain my period, increase my energy and muscle mass all by taking this necessary break. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Exercise is a great example of this.
If you think that you are over-exercising and are beginning to see negative effects then it's time to scale back before you do some serious damage to your body. If you feel way to stressed and anxious about not exercising then begin to incorporate more rest days into your schedule or vary your routine to add things in like yoga, Pilates or light swimming.
Heed your bodies signals, don't push yourself past your limits and honor that your body needs rest.
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