Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or you’re trying to get back your summer body, people are pledging to exercise more and live a healthier lifestyle, and this should be greatly encouraged. The common assumption that is drilled into us from a very early age is that exercise is good for us and contributes to a healthy lifestyle. And yes, there are some obvious, proven physical and psychological benefits of exercise, including reduced risk of heart failure and release of endorphins to boost your happiness. But, as with many other things including smoking and drinking, exercise should be done in moderation, or there is a risk of addiction. Excessive exercising is a problem where someone completes a large amount of exercise without a suitable rest period which can actually reverse many of the initial benefits and have a detrimental impact on physical and mental well-being.
Many people exercise as a way to lose and control their weight, and this can be very successful if accompanied by sufficient calorie intake and the right foods to allow your body to change healthily. But, excessive exercise requires a much larger consumption of food to keep your body healthy, which is not always accommodated. Not adjusting calorie intake can actually stimulate eating disorders such as Anorexia and weakens bones, leading to joint and muscle pains. And putting your body under the strain of exercise without allowing time to recover may even lead to serious injuries that can put you out of sport for a very long time. This can be detrimental to many professional athletes and sportspersons, yet the intense pressure to achieve ever better personal bests makes them at a high risk of exercise compulsion.
Not only does excessive exercise put severe pressure on your body, but on your mental state as well. Serotonin or the “happy hormone” can be released during exercise and be very good for your mental state. Yet, over-exercising can lead to hormone imbalances which may stimulate mood swings and feeling exhausted all the time, even when you’ve had sufficient sleep. A cycle of self-criticism can quickly develop and lead to mental illnesses such as body dysmorphia; a growing problem for many who over-exercise. The disorder involves hating a particular aspect of themselves and using exercise to try and look better. So, exercise, like any other addiction, can take over your life and lead to severe stress with the nagging voice in your mind telling “you have to exercise” and if you don’t, you’re sense of self-worth is diminished.
As with any addiction, the first step is accepting that you have a compulsive relationship with exercise. Yes, exercise can be a helpful outlet, and many people train regularly to achieve their fitness goals; but resting is also part of this training that allows your body to recover and progress. Creating a simple weekly workout plan with assigned rest periods throughout can really help escape an exercise obsession. But if you are concerned that you have a problem, you should seek advice from professionals. This will help you turn exercise into something that makes you feel good about yourself; not resent yourself.
If you’re struggling with over-exercising, Student Counselling and Wellbeing (SCW@LUU) offer same-day appointments for students. Visit this page for more information: https://students.leeds.ac.uk/info/100001/counselling_and_wellbeing/1177/student_counselling_and_wellbeing_drop_in_with_leeds_university_union