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Compulsive exercise: Are you overdoing it?

Exercise is very good for your health, but it is possible to overdo it to such an extent that it is considered a mental health issue called compulsive exercise.

Compulsive exercise can be linked to eating disorders.

What are the symptoms of compulsive exercise?

People who take part in compulsive exercise may feel really good most of the time - until it rains and they are unable to run for miles. They think excessive exercise is the best way to stay thin, build lean muscles, and be a star in their sport. Those with exercise compulsion often engage in sports such as ballet, gymnastics, wrestling or athletics.

The symptoms of exercise compulsion can include:

Many girls who over-exercise stop having their menstrual periods (called amenorrhoea). Amenorrhoea can lead to serious reproductive problems, and can also cause early bone loss and fractures. In some girls, excessive exercise may even delay puberty.

How is compulsive exercise treated?

The person with compulsive exercise needs to understand that sufficient rest periods are needed from their exercise routine.

Rest gives your body time to heal from the stresses put upon it by running, swimming, dancing, wrestling, strength training, or other activity.

How can compulsive exercise harm my health?

Regular, consistent exercise boosts your immune system. But when you over-train or exercise daily to the point of exhaustion, it can damage your immune system by pouring the powerful stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol into your body.

Exercising too much simply makes the body exhausted. Your body has no time to rest and heal, and the exercise compulsion increases the likelihood of injury, illness and fatigue.

Other problems occur when you exercise compulsively. Teenagers who exercise too much have difficulty sleeping. Relationships are adversely affected when you make exercise the priority, instead of enjoying friends and social outings. You also might feel irritable and be inattentive at school.

Compulsive exercise also increases the risk of eating disorders such as bulimia. Bulimia nervosa mostly affects girls and is characterised by episodes of binge eating that occur twice a week or more for at least three months. Teenagers with bulimia are over-concerned about their body image and weight. They regularly resort to self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, severe dieting, and extreme exercise to stop themselves putting on weight.

When should I seek medical advice about exercise compulsion?

Do you have exercise compulsion? Look at the following statements and see which ones apply to you. If two or more of the statements apply, seek medical advice about your compulsion to exercise:

  • I exercise even when I have a fever or have a bad cold.
  • The first thing that comes to my mind each morning is "exercise".
  • When I can't exercise, I'm so afraid that I will put on weight.
  • I break dates with friends and family so I can exercise more.
  • When I miss exercise, I feel irritable and depressed.
  • I work out in rain or shine, even in freezing temperatures or thunderstorms.
  • I crave the "high" feeling that I get from exercise.
  • I am underweight for my height.
  • Losing weight has become more of a priority than maintaining a healthy weight.


WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 02, 2018

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