This article discusses compulsive exercising and disordered eating.
—Aimee L., first-year student, Community College of Denver
Can too much of a good thing be a bad thing? In the case of exercise, the answer is yes.
Exercise has numerous benefits for both mind and body, and some kind of movement should be a part of your daily routine. However, excessive exercise can start to have negative effects on the body.
When we exercise excessively (e.g., strenuous exercise every day, with little to no rest days), the body is in a constant cycle of breakdown and repair. Exercise stresses our body, and stress breaks down the tissues that make up our body. Normally, when exercise isn’t excessive, this is a good thing, because the body will repair this damage and become stronger by doing so. But the key to this cycle working properly is that the body needs time to recover. When the body is not given enough time to recover, it will continue to break down instead of getting stronger. That’s when problems arise.
Some negative effects of too much exercise include:
- Overuse injuries to muscles and tendons
- Bone damage
- Altered levels of hormones
- Mood swings
- Unhealthy weight loss
- Disrupted sleep
To avoid the negative effects of working out too much, the Sports and Exercise Medicine Institute recommends:
- Paying attention to proper hydration and nutrition
- Getting adequate sleep
- Varying days of intense exercise with days of easy exercise (known as “active rest”)
- Keeping a log to monitor how you are feeling during and after a workout
It’s also important to look out for signs of compulsive exercise, which can be linked with disordered eating behaviors. Compulsive exercising may look like:
- Feeling anxious, guilty, or stressed when you’re unable to exercise
- Exercise interfering with other important activities in your life
- Exercising at inconvenient or inappropriate times (such as late at night)
- Continuing to exercise despite injury or medical complications
- Feeling uncomfortable with rest
- Exercising to give yourself permission to eat or to “purge” the food you ate earlier
- Being secretive about exercise
If you or someone you know is struggling with over-exercising or disordered eating behaviors, chat, call, or text the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) at 800-931-2237 for help and seek out counseling through your school or in your community.