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We are often told that exercising keeps us healthy and helps to improve our wellbeing. However there is a big difference between someone having a healthy exercise routine and an unhealthy preoccupation with keeping fit. When someone undertakes excessive amounts of exercise, this can actually have a negative impact on their body and mind if left untreated.

How to spot the signs that somebody may be exercising excessively

If you suspect that a friend or family member may be over-exercising, look out for some or all of the following signs:

  • Exercise starts to take over all other activities and commitments. For example, they start missing social activities or important commitments such as school, college or work
  • They become extremely anxious if they miss an exercise session
  • They compensate for missed exercise sessions by doing twice the amount the next time or restricting their food intake
  • People who over-exercise will often do so alone, and will exercise even when they are sick or injured
  • In spite of losing weight, they will feel worthwhile

How much exercise is too much?

Society often gives mixed messages about exercise, which can confuse people about how much is appropriate. Generally speaking, 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise a day is a standard amount. This could be anything from cycling and walking briskly to getting involved in moderate aerobic activity such as tennis or water aerobics.

What are the effects on somebody who is over exercising?

Someone who is over-exercising is likely to experience symptoms, such as:

  • Changes in mood: Depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and irritability are common when the body is physically overstressed
  • Delayed recovery time: The persistent muscle soreness can last for hours or days after exercising
  • A weakened immune system: As the body struggles with fatigue and inadequate muscle recovery, energy reserved for proper immune system function can redirect to overworked muscles and bones
  • In females, a condition called amenorrhea can occur: This is when a person starts missing periods due to a dip in oestrogen levels
  • An increase in hunger: Too much exercise can increase hunger and food cravings, which in turn can fuel an urge to binge eat

How to help if you suspect someone close to you is over exercising:

If you suspect somebody close to you is over-exercising, it can be difficult to approach the subject and know what to say. Here are five tips to help you start the conversation:

  • Encourage them to let go of their exercise schedule for a couple of days a week and take note of how their body is feeling during this time
  • Help them to find an activity that allows them to appreciate their body’s strength. If someone is exercising solely to burn calories and lose weight, they will never be satisfied
  • Provide them with distractions by scheduling regular social activities such as watching a film or going for a coffee
  • Encourage them to rest and practice self-care. They need to make sure that they are getting enough sleep (between 7-8 hours per night)
  • If the person is relying on exercise to relieve stress, create a list of other stress-busting activities strategies, such as reading, meditation, colouring or journaling

Here at Life Works, we are able to support people at every stage of their illness and address any challenging behaviours that they exhibit, such as over-exercising. During treatment, our team are able to provide a range of group work and one-to-one sessions, both of which are highly effective for driving change in people suffering with symptoms of addiction.

Reviewed by Rebecca Jennings (MSc ANutr), Nutritionist at Life Works.

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