When Exercise Becomes Excessive

If a little exercise can help a body be healthier, then a lot of exercise should multiply the positive effects many times over, right? Not necessarily. Like any thought or action that starts to rule your life, preoccupation with fitness training is an unhealthy habit. The results can be sick-making . . . or even deadly.

Say, for example, you're in a team sport that requires several practice sessions each week. You get a good workout with your teammates, so you figure you'll build up even a better body by hitting the gym every day.  The endorphin rush you experience when you exercise gives you a natural high. Those chemicals — endorphins — are more than mood lifters; they're pain relievers, too (the "morphine within").  You bump up your exercise routine to keep the endorphins flowing.

What can be so bad about feeling so good? Nothing — in moderation. But if happen to be staying in motion more than the recommended 60 minutes a day for teenagers — or, if you have a fixation about downsizing to supermodel thin — you might be slipping into compulsive behavior.

Here are some things to think about if working out occupies your mind day and night:

  • Are you trying to lose weight? Do you have a reasonable goal — and a plan that includes small portions of healthy food throughout the day? Do you believe you'll burn more calories by pushing yourself to extend your workouts?

  • Do you give your body a break with a day of rest between exercise sessions, or are you always taxing yourself with tough workouts?

  • Has exercise become a better friend than your best friend? Have you sidelined your social life for your physical fitness training? Do you shortchange homework to hurry off for a vigorous round of calisthenics?

  • If you've accelerated your exercise in preparation for a big event or competition, have you checked in with your coach or trainer for his or her okay? Running the risk of muscle strains, fractures, or burnout on your part is their business, too.

  • Is there a chance that your passion for exercise might be paired up with symptoms of an eating disorder? Weight gain worries can prompt some people to use any means possible to achieve an idealized look — subsisting on a barebones diet, overeating and purging, compulsively working out to burn calories, or a combination of dangerous approaches.

  • Have you noticed changes in your body or attitude that you can't explain? Are you tired when you think you should be raring to go? Do you struggle with falling asleep at night? Are you always thirsty? Do you never feel hungry? If you're a girl, are your periods haphazard or altogether stopped?

If you suspect you might be edging toward an exercise overdose, back off and visit with a confidante who can help you sort out your irresistible impulses. Let the benefits of a regular workout outweigh any urge to overindulge in exercise!