Compulsive exercising or exercise addiction or anorexia athletica is a condition in which an individual feels compelled to exercise excessively through longer and more vigorous workouts than what is considered moderate, healthy, and reasonable.
In this case, “exercise” is being abused. The abuse of exercise, something intended to reap many health and wellness benefits, becomes the “drug” that when abused can have detrimental physical and psychological effects.
How can you determine if you or someone else compulsively exercises? Here is a list of symptoms of compulsive exercisers:
- Have rigorous exercise routines
- Will exercise for hours at a time and more than once a day
- Usually workout alone
- Exercise out of obligation, not for enjoyment
- Will continue intensity of exercise, despite injury, sickness, fatigue, pain, and bad weather
- Stress fractures get worse due to lack of rest
- Feel guilty and anxiety when they cannot workout
- Have low self-esteem
- Talk excessively about working out and on health topics
- Obsessed with training details
- Make comments about being or feeling “fat”
- Their exercise often gets precedence over relationships and responsibilities
- Avoid social activities
- Self-worth and a “good” day is determined by the productivity of the workout
Over exercising can lead to damage to bones, cartilage, ligaments, joints, and tendons. Muscle deterioration can also occur due to over exertion and poor diet. Unless those who over exercise keep themselves well hydrated and replace electrolytes lost during exercising, they are at risk for dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Those who are obsessed with exercising usually are preoccupied with losing weight and/or improving sports performance. Eating disorders and obsessive exercising place an overwhelming amount of stress on the body and can be a lethal combination.
If you are a compulsive exerciser and have difficulty cutting back your exercise to a moderate exercise level, consider getting professional help. A therapist can help you explore your feelings behind your need to over exercise and help you set personal goals. A nutritionist can help you establish meal plans that fit your caloric and nutritional needs. The right exercise trainer can help you develop a modest, healthy, balanced workout routines and teach you good form.
Exercise, sports, and recreational activities should be fun.
Healthy, moderate exercise has many health and wellness benefits, including:
- Elevating mood
- Reducing stress
Health benefits, including decreasing risk for cardiovascular disease; preventing or managing type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer; reducing the risk for certain conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol; increasing “good” cholesterol (HDL) while lowering ”bad” cholesterol (LDL); enhancing blood flow and allowing the heart to operate more efficiently.
- Developing and maintaining healthy muscles, bones, and joints
- Enhancing quality of sleep
- Boosting energy
- Improving mental focus
- Improving psychological well-being, including reducing depression
- Enhancing sexual performance
- Feeling more pride in your body for looking more physically fit
- Improving sports performance
- Helping prevent excess weight gain or maintaining weight after having lost weight
Federal exercise recommendations call for Americans to get at least 2-1/2 hours of moderate exercise per week (or 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week) for optimal health. Three to five hours of exercise is modest, but ten or more hours per week is excessive.
If you are engaged in a more formal exercise program, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends, including the three exercise components of cross training: aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility. Aerobic exercises, such as walking, improves cardiovascular capabilities. Strength training, such as weightlifting, helps develop muscle mass. Flexibility exercises, such as stretching, keeps you limber.
If you engage in strength training, work the different muscle groups. After working a muscle group, always allow at least a day in between before working out on that muscle group again. It is important to allow the broken down muscles from the exercises for a specific muscle group to recover and heal before using them again. So, work different muscle groups on different days and opposing muscle groups on the same day.
Exercise should be fun, so do exercises or sports you enjoy. Keep your exercising interesting with variety. Consider exercising with an exercise partner to keep you motivated and make it enjoyable. Remember, even informal exercising like doing house cleaning or taking the stairs instead of the elevator offer us simple ways to exercise as we go about the daily activities of our life.
Understand the value of exercise and giving exercise and recreation a priority position in your life, but be flexible! Being flexible means not having to exercise formally every day or at the same time or in the same way.