The feeling of accomplishment you get after completing a good workout is great. Your heart is dancing to the healthy beat in your chest and you feel invigorated. It’s hard to think of exercise as a bad thing since it so often comes with life-enhancing benefits.
Behind the idealized culture of fitness, cute workout gear, and lean bodies lies another world of extremes-- the world of an over-exerciser. Exercise can become a negative.
We all want to be healthy, but it’s important to make sure that we are exercising in the right way. Here are some important factors to consider when thinking about the way you workout.
What motivates you?
Determine what it is that inspires you to get out of the house and into the gym. Fitness expert Jenny Skoog, a New York City personal trainer and founder of SkoogFit , suggests that examining motivating behaviors is key to determining the difference between positive and negative exercise.
“A 'positive exerciser' schedules exercise around work, social life and relationships resulting in feelings of control, competence and mental and physical well-being,” says Skoog. “It turns to a negative addiction when the exercise becomes compulsive, trumping considerations of well-being, relationships and career.”
Is your body fighting back?
Susan Moore is the Program and Exercise Coordinator at The Renfrew Center in Philadelphia—a residential treatment center designed to assist women with eating disorders and behavioral health issues. Moore notes that a person who is exercising too much may begin to see effects in the deterioration of bodily mechanics. Your body may show signs of stress in the form of stress fractures, tendonitis, fatigue, amenorrhea (loss of period for an extended period of time), osteoporosis, and even kidney failure.
How much is too much?
Skoog has observed that most over-exercisers will often push their bodies to the limit in order to fulfill their need.
“They’re not satisfied until they’ve pushed themselves to their threshold and a lot of these people will go to the gym with a plan and will exceed that plan,” says Skoog.
Missing that nutritional balance?
Ryann Smith, RD, a nutritionist at The Renfrew Center explains that everyone needs a balanced diet, not just those who exercise frequently. She emphasizes including important sources of nutrients such as complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fruits and veggies in your diet. Smith also recommends eating pre and post-workout snacks, which aid your muscles when they are under stress.
“An example of a pre-workout snack could include a yogurt with some fruit and nuts or a tuna or turkey sandwich,” Smith explains. “A post workout snack could be a smoothie consisting of fruit, yogurt, peanut butter and oatmeal.”
Need to mix it up?
If you’re looking for an exciting way to stay in shape, Skoog suggests picking a different sport every season.
“If it’s spring, maybe you can do an indoor volleyball league then cross train with jogging. Take up bike riding and sign up for a race in May. For summer, take up tennis. You can do it with a friend.”
Skoog also emphasizes to her clients that it’s important to vary the intensity of your workouts. She suggests switching up between endurance training, cardio, yoga or Pilates (among other workouts), and rest so that your body doesn’t get overworked and prone to injury.
Listen to your body
To alleviate the symptoms of over-exercising, Skoog suggests the following:
- Rest: Listen to the body—if it's sore, rest! Schedule at least 1 rest day/week.
- Sleep: 8 hours/night is essential
- Massage: Work out those knots and kinks!
- Hydration: A car needs oil. The body needs water.
- Meditation: Find a positive mantra throughout the day. Every day.
- Social support: Reach out to friends for help and open a dialogue.
- Cross training: Cardio is only one component of fitness: discover strength and flexibility, too!
Seek the appropriate resources
Experts say it is important to note that while over-exercising is not considered to be an actual medical condition, it may be an indicator of one. "Over-exercise is a component of an eating disorder—it is not a disorder or an addiction in itself," Moore explains. "It is found in Bulimia Nervosa as well as Anorexia Nervosa."
If you or someone you know may be an active over-exerciser, obtaining the opinion of a trained professional could save a life! Talk to a personal trainer or a nutritionist to discuss healthy ways to feel your best. There are also a ton of resources out there like The Renfrew Center, which has locations in ten different states.
In the end, the most important thing is to know your body, respect your limits, and be realistic with your goals.
“Examine your motivation for exercise before, during and after the workout,” Moore says. “Find ways to exercise for enjoyment, socialization and overall health.”
Jenny Skoog is a certified Personal Trainer with National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) with additional certifications in Pre/Postnatal, Kettlebells, Spin Instructor, a DONA-International Trained Doula and has completed courses on Special Populations, Integrative Flexibility and Self-Myofascial Release. She is the founder of SkoogFit in New York City. You can read her blog at http://skoogfit.wordpress.com/. Susan Moore, MA, RYT, AAAI is the Program and Exercise Coordinator at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia, where she manages exercise and group therapy programs, facilitates exercise groups and assists residents in developing an exercise plan upon discharge. Learn more about The Renfrew Center at http://renfrewcenter.com/