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Mental Health Monday – What Is Over Exercising?


Hey all.

Workout – 4.31 easy recovery miles in Central Park.

IMG_7385 IMG_7386

(The reason that the pace is drastically slower in the first mile is due to the fact that there were a million red lights on the run over to the park and I didn’t pause RunKeeper at them… Whoops).

So it’s been quite a long time since the last time I sat down to write a Mental Health Monday post, and today’s topic is one that is very close to my heart.

Overexercising.

Or, more specifically, what exactly is overexercising?

The term is pretty common. You see it everywhere in the forms of magazine articles, health website posts, and even in those little ads that you see on the sides of the webpages that you are browsing.

Are You Over Exercising? 5 Signs Of Overtraining.

How To Tell If You Are Overtraining.

Science Finds That Too Much Exercise Can Lead To Weight Gain.

Wow. If there is so much talk on the issue of over exercising/compulsive exercise/overtraining, then surely there must be a great amount of awareness surrounding the issue, right?

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.

See, the lines of what is too much exercise is a very blurry one. I mean, pro athletes train for hours every day and often train twice a day. They aren’t over exercising. In fact, they are arguably some of the healthiest people out there.

So where does that leave us? If pro-athletes can train every day, then who are we to think that our *need* to exercise for 30 minutes every day with no rest days ever is too much? It can’t be, now can it?

I have a very strong opinion of what exactly over exercising is. Now, keep in mind that this is purely my theory, and has no real scientific backing. However, as someone who has struggled with an eating disorder that manifested itself as an exercise addiction for quite some times, I do like to think that I am fairly knowledgeable about this particular issues.

Now, when I say compulsive exercise, what exactly do I mean?

The NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) references compulsive over exercising in their definition of the anorexia subtype called, “anorexia athletica.”

Anorexia Athletica (Compulsive Exercising)

Anorexia athletica is a condition where people over-exercise because they believe this will control their bodies and give them a sense of power, control and self-respect. It isn’t a clinically recognized diagnosis in the same way that anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are, but compulsive exercising can have serious health consequences.

Symptoms of anorexia athletica include:

Exercising more than is good for our health.
Being fanatical about our weight and diet.
Taking time off work, school and relationships to exercise.
Focusing on the challenge exercise poses and forgetting that it can be fun.
Believing that our self-worth depends on our physical performance.
Rarely being satisfied by what we achieve physically.                                                           Saying that this exercise is okay because we are athletes, or insisting that the behavior is healthy.

(Source)

Now, I know that whilst anorexia athletica always includes excessive/compulsive exercise, over exercising does not always mean that one has anorexia athletica. However, I would definitely argue that over exercising often has less to do with the amount that you are exercising and more to do with the mentality that surrounds/backs your compulsive exercise.

So some questions to ask yourself could be:

Do I exercise because I want to? Or do I do it because I feel like I am a failure/will gain a million pounds overnight/will be looked at as lazy etc. if I don’t?

If there is a day where I truly can’t workout, will it completely destroy my day? Will I obsess over this one missed day of exercise for weeks to come?

Do I put working out over spending quality time with family and friends? Do I avoid making plans if it cuts into my workout schedule?

Do I not allow myself to take off if I am sick or injured? 

If you answered yes to these questions, then your mind is definitely not in the right place for exercising.

Also, obviously you can kind of tell that you are over training (even if you are in complete denial of this fact and push the thought to the back of your mind) when you are constantly fatigued, start dreading your workouts, or begin to feel sickly often. These are obvious symptoms and are always the first to be mentioned in those magazine/web articles that I referenced earlier in this post.

One thing that I don’t ever see in these articles is something that I believe to be the number one most crucial factor in determining what exactly it means to be over exercising.

Your caloric intake vs. the amount of exercise that you are doing.

Sure professional athletes can workout for hours a day and not be accused of overexercising, but these athletes are also eating a ton to make sure that their body is properly fueled for this level of training. However, if you are eating a calorie deficient diet and exercising for hours a day, you are literally destroying yourself.

Think about it, we all too often see this (idiotic) idea that women should be consuming 1200 calories a day if they want to lose weight. Firstly, that is complete nonsense. Unless you are obscenely short (and even then, this is often way too low), your body needs more than 1200 calories per day just to perform its necessary functioning for survival. Now, add exercise, even if it is just 30 minutes per day, each and every day, into the equation and you very likely will now have (depending on the workout that you do) a net caloric intake of less than 1000 calories. You are literally preventing your body from properly being able to fulfill it’s job of keeping you alive… And yet you are expecting it to support and give you energy for working out? It doesn’t work like that. Keeping you alive is your body’s priority.

So what is over exercising?

I firmly believe that the term over exercising is completely relative. There is no set amount of time or intensity level or frequency of workouts that can tell you whether or not you are over training. It all depends on your mentality surrounding exercise, and whether or not you are adequately fueling your body to support your level of activity, whatever it may be.

Moral of the story? DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS.

Just because someone can run ten miles a day and be perfectly healthy doesn’t mean that you should ignore that you are feeling the symptoms of over working your body while running 3 miles a day. That other person is not you. They do not eat the same food. They do not eat the same amount. They are not at the same stage of life as you. They do not live in the same environment as you. What they can do should never influence how you feel about what you can do and what you should do. You are your own person and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you acknowledge that fact and listen to your body. You know yourself best, and you know when something is not quite right.

Never let the fear of not being enough prevent your own personal growth and healing.

Thank you for reading. I’ll talk to you guys tomorrow =).

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