Is there such a thing as over exercising your body?

Exercise is such an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It can allow one to burn calories, build muscle mass, strengthen bones, and improve mood. However, at times people can go overboard and it is possible to “over exercise”. Some people do it unknowingly, maybe while training for a marathon or an ironman race. They might have a lofty goal to achieve a certain time so they might spend far too much time training for the race. Unfortunately, if this occurs, many of these people will have decreased performance in the end. Those who push too far too fast will end up with diminished strength, fatigue, decreased recovery, decreased concentration, mood changes and they may develop an overall disinterest in exercising.

Another dangerous form of “over exercising” may accompany a damaging eating disorder. Other terms to describe this behavior may be “pathogenic exercise”, “exercise addiction”, and “anorexia athletica”. According to the Association for Body Image Disordered Eating (ABIDE), these are “individuals who are consumed by the need for physical activity to the exclusion of everything else and to the point of damage or danger to their lives.” These individuals tend to define themselves through their involvement in exercise and these obsessed folks have become addicted with it. This compulsive behavior is a common feature seen in bulimics and anorexics. Those with this disorder are often uncomfortable with states of rest or relaxation. They depend on physical activity to stabilize their mood and they will use rationalizations and other defense mechanisms to perpetuate their obsession. ABIDE contends that “both groups (those with eating disorders and exercise addiction) attempt to control the body through exercise and/or diet and are overly conscious of input versus output equations. They are extremely committed individuals and pride themselves on putting mind over matter, valuing self-discipline, self-sacrifice, and the ability to persevere.” Several symptoms of overexercising are listed in the first paragraph and those addicted to exercise may also experience a decreased heart rate, hypothalamic dysfunction, decreased maximum oxygen uptake, and increased muscle wasting.

If you know someone that may suffer from this disorder, it is important that they get help. ABIDE suggests that someone that has good rapport with the individual sets up a private meeting to discuss the problem while being supportive. It is also recommended that you consult a trained clinician who specializes in treating these disorders. Treatment focuses on helping the individual receive and internalize care and develop their own self- love. Focus is on promoting relationships over physical activity.

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