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When Exercise Becomes a Bad Thing - Knowing Your Limits
By Shannon Clark

For most of us, getting started and sticking with a workout program proves to be challenging enough. We often start out strong and those first few days, we’re giving our workout sessions everything we’ve got. We’re determined, we’re committed, and we’re going to see the results that we desire.

But, what happens when you choose to take this a little too far? What happens when you virtually need exercise in your day? For some people, exercise addiction is a very real and serious problem that needs to be addressed before it has detrimental impacts on your health and well-being.

Let’s look a little closer into this issue so that you can identify for yourself whether you may have issues that you need to attend to.

What Exercise Addiction Is

The first thing that you need to consider is what exercise addiction is in the first place.  Basically, this is a situation where you feel compelled to get that workout in, no matter what else is going on. It doesn’t matter if you have an important meeting to attend to, a best friend’s wedding, or something else of that nature, you will find a way to get your workout in – or else you will be extremely mentally unsettled because of not doing it.

Those who experience exercise addiction often actually become dependent on the endorphin release that is seen during intense physical activity so in part, it’s this feel-good sensation that they crave – almost like a drug. In other cases, it may be fear of losing their level of fitness or weight gain that drives the exercise addiction.

However you choose to look at it, at the bottom line, exercise addiction is happening whenever someone feels like they cannot go, under any circumstances, without doing their workout session. To them, missing that workout is one of the worst possible things that could happen in their day. They’re in the gym seven days a week, never giving themselves the break that they likely need to sustain good health.

The Impacts of Exercise Addiction

So what are the impacts of exercise addiction? What can this do to you?

First, it’s very hard on the body overall. If you’re experiencing exercise addiction, don’t be surprised if you’re also going to note very sore joints, muscles, and even ligaments and tendons. All this exercise without sufficient rest and recovery time is going to take a big toll on the body and as it does, you won’t be bouncing back like you use to. Overuse injuries set in and sooner or later, you may not even be able to get through those workout sessions at all.

In addition to that, exercise addiction can mess with your hormonal levels as well. This will be especially the case if you happen to be on a very low calorie diet at the same time as now you have a high energy expenditure going out and not much energy coming in. The body will view this as a famine situation, starting slowing down the metabolic rate, and worse, it may impact thyroid function. Many of those who go on with over-exercise and chronic dieting for too long actually end up experiencing clinical hypothyroidism and will need to use medication (often for life) to fix this.

Exercise addiction also takes a toll on you mentally as well. You’ll notice extreme feelings of stress if you miss those workouts and this can make it hard to concentrate on much else. For the person who’s addicted, they will put exercise above all other things going on in their life, and if they do miss a session, they won’t feel like themselves. Anger, agitation, and in some cases depression may set in if they are unable to do their workouts. They exercise through pain, fatigue, sickness – it doesn’t matter to them, their workout is getting done.

Finally, the last big problem with exercise addiction is that it will also take a toll on your immune system as well. You’ll find that you fall ill far more frequently and when you do get sick, you battle that cold for weeks on end.

Overcoming Exercise Addiction

So if you feel like you have some of the signs of exercise addiction, what can you do about it? How can you get past it?

First, it’s a must that you take some time to realize the importance of rest in the exercise equation. In some cases, these people just don’t realize how vital rest is for recovery purposes and once they learn that they’re actually doing more harm than good, that may be enough to get them changing their ways.

In other cases, you may need to seek help for an underlying eating disorder if that’s at the root of the cause of exercise addiction. Some people will be able to just stop cold turkey and begin adding days off into their program plan, but for many people, this may be asking a little too much.

If that’s the case for you, then you’re best off starting to include lower intensity forms of exercise such as yoga, stretching, or light walking on two to three days per week so that you are still being ‘active’, but you’re giving your body a break from all that intense exercise it normally does.

So there you have some of the key points to know about exercise addiction. Very often exercise addiction and eating disorders to go hand in hand, so if there is an exercise addiction present, it may be worthwhile to really look at the situation and see whether there may also be other underlying issues that need to be resolved.

Until those are addressed, it’s unlikely that the exercise addiction is going to fade from the picture. In some cases, the only way to get past it is to stop exercise altogether for a while so that the individual can see for themselves that it won’t be the end of the world if they aren’t getting their workout sessions in.

Shannon Clark holds a Degree in Exercise Science and Sports Performance and is a certified AFLCA personal trainer. She has been working in the health and fitness industry for the last 12 years and writes for www.FitRated.com and magazines on the topics of health, fitness, weight loss, cardio and strength training.  

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