Fitness & Exercise
Exercise Addiction: How Much Is Too Much?
In most cases, exercise is a healthy activity. However, like anything else, it can be dangerous when done to excess. Exercising too much can put you at risk for a variety of serious health problems.
How do you know if you’re dealing with an addictive behavior or just a love of working out? Click through the slideshow to help you decide if you’re overdoing it.
Why You Should Worry
According to McLean Hospital, up to 95 percent of the 1 to 3 percent of people with an eating disorder may use a fitness center. The problem with this is that exercising too much puts you at risk of developing a variety of health conditions—some of which can be life threatening—including:
- excessive weight loss
- menstruation problems in women
- frequent injuries
- isolation and weakened social relationships
- death (in extreme cases)
What Is Exercise Addiction?
While most people struggle to get themselves to go to the gym, exercise addicts have the opposite problem. Exercise addicts may push themselves to work out for several hours each day and structure much of their schedule around exercise.
They may work out regardless of sickness, injury, or other health problems that would cause most people to take a day off.
Too Much of a Good Thing
The activity level of exercise addicts generally far exceeds the exercise guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which advise that adults need 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise per week (around 30 minutes per day), plus muscle-strengthening exercises two days a week.
McLean Hospital identifies a sudden increase in the amount of time spent working out—for example, from 30 minutes a day to two hours a day—as a warning sign for exercise addiction.
Are You at Risk?
Although anyone can fall into a pattern of over-exercising, there are certain traits that many exercise addicts share, such as:
- perfectionistic tendencies
- high-achieving personality
- preoccupation with body image
- fear of or obsession with weight gain
- low self-esteem
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that women and girls who try to lose weight by imposing eating restrictions and engaging in rigorous exercise regimens are at particularly high risk for exercise addiction.
What Are the Signs?
According to McLean Hospital, you should watch out for these red flags that may indicate a tendency toward exercise addiction:
- being consumed with thoughts of exercise and weight-gain prevention
- working out multiple times a day, often fitting exercise into your routine at any opportunity
- loss of balanced perspective—importance of exercise trumps all other facets of life, including family, work, social obligations, and other interests
- insistence on continuing regular workouts despite injury, illness, or signs of overtraining
How Can You Change?
It can be challenging to change your perspective toward one of better balance. This is because, for most people, exercise is a healthy activity that brings physical, mental, and emotional benefits. While you may feel that exercising demonstrates admirable traits such as discipline, fortitude, sacrifice, and hard work, you’re suffering from a disorder.
Despite these challenges, the strategies on the following slides can help you change your approach toward exercise and come back from the brink of the danger zone.
Strategies to Break the Addiction
Here are some ways you can gradually overcome exercise addiction and build a healthier approach to working out:
- Talk to a trusted coach, friend, counselor, or other advisor about the situation. Find out if others consider your choices around exercise extreme.
- Change the emphasis of your exercise. Keep in mind that quality training is better than a “more is better” attitude.
Coming into Balance
If you find yourself with extra time, don’t add another workout to your schedule. If you miss a workout, don’t “double up” the next day.
Spend time on other interests. Whether it’s devoting more time to family or a hobby, set new goals for yourself in other areas of your life. Above all, find ways to keep workouts fun. If you’re no longer enjoying the process and see exercise merely as a must-do activity, you’ve lost the point of it.
A Healthier Approach
Work with a trainer to set a weekly schedule that includes days for rest and lighter-intensity training. The schedule should specify limits on your exercise. Count all exercise toward your total, not just your main workout. If you walk two miles to get to where you’ll start your main workout, for example, those miles should count toward the limits you’ve set. So should stretching, warm-ups, cool-downs, cross-training, and gym classes.