For most of us, finding the motivation to exercise is pretty black and white – either it's incredibly challenging or it's simply a way of life. We all know that working out is vital to happiness, health and longevity, but how do we know when we've taken it too far?
Are you the type who insists on going to a cycling class every morning, even when you’re injured or sick? Do you only feel good when you’re working out? Are you eating as a way to replenish calories for your next workout? Does your workout schedule interfere with your social life or relationships? If you answered yes to any of these, you may qualify as an over-exerciser.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women who try to lose weight by imposing eating restrictions and engaging in rigorous exercise regimens are at particularly high risk for exercise addiction.1
In today's society, exercise is widely accepted as a positive behavior associated with enhanced physical and psychological well-being. But when it comes to even healthy habits, too much of anything can backfire. There is a fine line between getting enough exercise and obsessing over it, and negative outcomes can appear when we become controlled by our diets and exercise routines – potentially even doing more harm than good.
Regular exercise is beneficial and can boost our immune systems. But over-training can bring us to a point of exhaustion – actually damaging our immune systems by adding stress to our adrenaline and cortisol hormones.2 Thanks to our body's built-in protective mechanisms, excess exercise can cause a plateau in weight loss or even weight gain (unrelated to increased muscle mass). It can also mess with our menstrual cycles, due to drops in estrogen, which makes our bones weaker and more susceptible to injury. And it can even interfere with our sleep patterns!3
So, before indulging the impulse to run out for our morning workout, focusing on what will burn the most calories or target our most troubled areas, consider incorporating activities that will clear the mind, as well as nurture the spirit. There’s really no need to deplete ourselves with marathon workouts or boot camps when we can participate in overall wellness activities like yoga, dancing, hiking or swimming.4 And if we focus less on our physical appearance – not to mention take a day or two off each week – exercise can become a balancing tool that helps us harvest clarity, creativity and energy.
"The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit." – Morihei Ueshiba