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We're encouraged to exercise by all professional health bodies. Getting the recommended amount of exercise is vital according to the NHS. They suggest adults need at least 150 minutes of weekly physical activity to fend off obesity, diabetes and heart disease issues. The World Health Organisation states in 2014 there were more than 1.9 billion overweight adults and of these, over 600 million were obese. We clearly need to eat less fatty foods and do more exercise, but at what point does exercise become harmful? The NHS says 'at least' 150 minutes a week and they don't recommend a maximum limit.
When you exercise too much it causes problems. The amount varies between individuals, there's no set amount.
Experts think it's becoming more of a problem due to pressure from celebrity culture to be thin and the rise of social media that allows people to share how they spend their time. Some studies suggest that 3-5% of gym-goers may have an addiction but other research suggests a higher amount.
There are several psychological and biological reasons for over-exercising.
Pressure to be thin and beautiful comes from all corners. Historically this was aimed at women but now men's magazines focus on health tips, muscle-building and body fitness articles rather than pictures of women. Celebrities with muscles and lean BMIs have become idols for both sexes.
Emotional issues can also trigger an exercise addiction. Aerobic activity releases endorphins, norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. These mood boosters are addictive and help calm anxiety. Although exercise is a great way to manage anxiety and boost mood, over-exercising can indicate a cover-up of emotional problems such as experiencing traumatic events, depression, low self esteem or a bad relationship.
The chemicals produced by exercise are addictive. Some people need more and more to feed their happiness and turn exercise into a continual circle.
When exercise exhibits all the symptoms of a behavioural problem it's time to seek some help. Long-term over-exercising can lead to health breakdowns, stress fractures in bones and changes in hormone levels. Simply put, over-exercising is unhealthy.
If you are putting in as many hours as a professional athlete then you're probably over-exercising. Taking two or three classes a day and feeling anxious if you can't indicates an addiction.
Are you enjoying your exercise and feeling well afterwards? If you're feeling tired and in pain but still think you need another workout, it's time to put the brakes on because when exercise leaves you exhausted, frazzled and unsatisfied it's become a problem.
It's difficult to spot exercise addiction when it's viewed as so essential to health. Many people can't find the motivation to exercise and wish they could. The praise showered on a gym-goer can bolster an addiction.
One of the best ways to wind down over-exercising is a gradual reduction program, reducing the frequency of workouts and replacing them with distractions such as socialising.
Here's how to back off from over-exercising…
When you do cardio finish your session with a strength class or stretching instead of another cardio workout.
Choose which days you'll exercise and stick to the plan.
If you're used to sharing your exercise program for praise, stop looking at your phone.
Rest from exercise is crucial. Your body NEEDS time to recover, rejuvenate and build up muscles.
Exercising means you need to eat properly. A bad or non-existent diet can lead to weak bones and exhaustion.
A classic example of an over-exerciser is when they workout despite pain. This risks aggravating the injury. Pain means something is wrong. Stop and listen to your body. Even if you don't have an obvious injury, your body may be telling you it's had enough.
If you can't stop over-exercising, seek out some professional help. Emotional issues are just as valid reasons to see your GP as physical ones.
If exercise is taking over your life, it's time to re-evaluate what you're doing and seek out the problem's root cause. Whilst exercise is important and vital for health, overdoing it has the opposite effect.