Have you ever heard the saying, “Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing?”
When used moderately to maintain physical and mental health, or when used in conjunction with an appropriate amount of nourishment, exercise has a whole host of incredible benefits.
But, in the case of exercise, too much of a good thing can yield negative consequences.
Exercise addiction is something that impacts thousands of people and can be conceptualized like other process and substance addictions. It’s not a formal clinical diagnosis, but rather a behavioral condition often rooted within other issues — such as distorted body image or eating disorders.
So how much exercise is too much exercise? That can be difficult to answer without knowing the unique circumstances surrounding each individual, but here are some universal signs to look out for:
- Missing a workout makes you irritable, anxious or depressed. For instance, if you notice yourself or someone you know becoming clearly agitated or uncomfortable after missing a workout, even after a long string of consecutive days of exercising, it could be a warning sign.
- You work out when sick, injured or exhausted. It is important to listen to your body’s cues. Those who have an addiction to exercise push themselves through a pulled muscle, the flu or even a stress fracture, failing to rest even when rest is clearly needed.
- Exercise becomes a way to escape. The primary goal is no longer balancing the mind or reducing stress. Exercise becomes a way to withdraw from certain life situations and the emotions that are brought up because of them. Clinical interventions, such as talk therapy and expressive therapy, are safe and adaptive ways to address uncomfortable emotions, and should be used when needed.
- Workouts start to impact relationships. When you notice that you are spending more time training than you spend with a spouse, or opt to stay at the gym instead of attending get-togethers with friends, it could be indicative of an unhealthy relationship with exercise. As with any eating disorder, exercise addicts tend to withdraw and isolate themselves from their friends and family in order to continue unhealthy behaviors.
- Other priorities suffer. In a similar vein, someone who frequently misses work deadlines or a child’s soccer games because exercise is viewed as more significant in the grand scheme of things is showing a sign of exercise addiction.
- Happiness is re-defined. For those who are exercise addicts, mood or happiness may be dictated solely by the outcome of the latest workout, how their body looks on that given day or how fit they currently perceive themselves to be.
- You continually extend workouts. It is quite common for someone struggling with an exercise addiction to add on workouts wherever they can, whether it’s extra reps on the bench press or running home after a hard soccer practice.
- You work out excessively. Some marathon training programs call for “two-a-days” to build mileage, but consistently doing this — without any specific training goal and without being monitored by a medical professional — could result in negative mental and physical ramifications.
- Exercise loses the element of play and fun. Dr. George Sheehan, author of Running & Being, says it perfectly, “The things we do with our bodies should be done merely because they are fun – not because they serve some serious purpose. If we are not doing something that is enjoyable on its own account we should look for something that is.” Exercise needs to be fun, not viewed as a chore or “must-do” when you simply don’t feel up to it.
It’s important to note these red flags don’t necessarily mean someone is addicted to exercise; rather, they provide an outline of universal symptoms that CAN be indicators that a greater problem exists. If the above statements describe your experience, please consider discussing your concern with a professional.