How to Know if You’re Exercising Too Much


Most of us have the problem that we don’t exercise enough. Desk jobs, excessive tiredness, and simple inertia can often keep us from hitting the gym as often as we should. Some people, however, have the opposite problem — they get on their exercise machines as often as they can, sometimes to the exclusion of many other things in their lives. There is nothing wrong with being keen on fitness, but if you already work out regularly, yet find yourself rearranging your life to fit in more exercise time, then it’s worth examining why that might be.

There are two common reasons that people over-exercise. One, they’re reasonably fit, but have some sort of perceived “flaw” that a normal amount of exercise can’t seem to get rid of. Usually this is because there are just some things that exercise can’t fix. For instance, if you used to be obese, and have hanging skin from having lost a lot of weight, no amount of muscle toning is going to make that extra skin disappear. Skin is elastic by nature, and will certainly grow and shrink with your body, but in extreme cases where there’s a large difference in size or the weight was lost very quickly (such as with gastric band surgery), the extra skin can hang in flaps. It may seem like it’s sagging muscles, but no matter how many Pilates classes you go to to firm up, you’re going to need extra help getting rid of that skin. Likewise, some post-natal women (especially those who have had more than one C-section) have issues with their abdominal muscles that have nothing to do with how fit they are. The abdomen may be stretched out of shape, and all the diet and exercise in the world won’t firm it up again.

The second main reason people overdo exercise is because they are trying to compensate for some emotional issues that they’re having trouble dealing with. Divorce, excessive stress, or a death in the family are all events that may trigger excessive exercise. Getting into a state of hyper-fitness is the brain’s way of trying to regain absolute control in one area, when that control is lost in another. If there’s something negative going on in your life that you can’t do anything about, sometimes your brain will kick into overdrive and try to control whatever else it can. Many times that can manifest in an ironically unhealthy obsession with fitness and health.

Often people who over-exercise deny that there’s any problem, simply because they think that no one can dispute the health benefits of physical fitness. That may be true, but while being out of shape can indeed pose health risks, people who exercise in excessive amounts may be covering up a mental or emotional issue that is far more detrimental to their overall health and well-being. If you are exercising several hours per week, good for you. If you are exercising several hours per day and you are not a professional or competitive athlete, then it may be time to look at why you feel the need to be on the treadmill much more than is actually necessary.

If you are in the first category and your issue is excess skin or an area of your body where the muscles are damaged, take a day off from the gym and go see your doctor. Chances are, she will be able to recommend a course of action that will help bring that one area of your body more into line with the rest of you. There are many solutions to these problems, but if regular exercise is not helping at all, then adding more exercise will not help, either. On the other hand, if you’re having emotional troubles and are exercising to put off having to deal with them, be honest with yourself about it. It’s okay to use your fitness time as an escape from normal stress, but if you are doing nothing but exercising in order to avoid the problems in your life, make an effort to deal with those things in a more productive way, either on your own or with help from a professional therapist. As with most things, balance is the key, and the physical and emotional sides of you should be working together, not covering up for each other.

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