23 Aug 2014
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Pushing Exercise Beyond its Health-Enhancing Limit

This week, Patch’s fitness columnist Dr. Andrea Metzker takes a look at obligatory exercise and its negative effects.

Pushing Exercise Beyond its Health-Enhancing Limit Pushing Exercise Beyond its Health-Enhancing Limit Pushing Exercise Beyond its Health-Enhancing Limit Pushing Exercise Beyond its Health-Enhancing Limit

I have spent a few months now talking about how great exercise is and how many fun things there are to do here in the shore -- many of which I didn’t even know existed.

But for some, exercise is too much of a good thing and exercise becomes obligatory for that person.

Obligatory exercise is defined by the exercise addict’s frame of mind: they no longer choose to exercise but feel compelled to do so and struggle with guilt and anxiety if they don't work out. Exercise takes over a compulsive or obligatory exerciser's life.

Aerobic activity up to 60 minutes per day for 4-6 days a week is optimal and has numerous health benefits including (but not limited to): lowering heart disease, lowering blood pressure, lowering risk of some cancers and elevating mood to name a few. Yet, beyond the recommended amount of exercise, there are no added health benefits and increased risk of exercise-induced injuries.

Too much exercise can be damaging to tendons, ligaments, bones and cartilage and can lead to muscle breakdown. Women may stop menstruating and start losing bone mass.

Some of the major signs of exercise addiction are as follows:

●Continuing to train even when ill or injured.

●Experiencing anxiety when a workout is missed – withdrawal symptoms.

●Constantly talking about their sport, training schedule and diet.

●Neglecting other important areas of life.

●Justifying excessive exercise as necessary to their sport.

●Having friends and family notice a loss of perspective.

In general, researchers believe, that if one is working out more than once a day it is likely not a good sign. Like other addictions, if it gets in the way of other important parts of one’s life on a regular basis, there should be some concern.

Women are more prone to experience obligatory exercise than men and it can be tied to eating disorders. While prevention is the best prescription for avoiding the cycle of exercise addiction or obligatory exercise, individuals may need help from a nutritionist or therapist to gain perspective on what is healthy exercise.

I know many people are training for long distance events and may need to train more than once a day at times. Again, it is the perspective or how you think about exercise that matters. Here is a questionnaire to assess whether you are an obligatory exerciser from the book Exercise Balance (Pauline S. Powers, M.D., Ron Thompson, PhD)

Directions: Listed below is a series of statements about people's exercise habits. Write down the number that reflects how often you make the following statements:

1 - NEVER    2 - SOMETIMES    3 - USUALLY    4 - ALWAYS

  1. I engage in physical exercise on a daily basis.

1    2    3    4

2. I engage in one/more of the following forms of exercise: walking, jogging/running or weight lifting.

1    2    3    4

3. I exercise more than three days per week.

1    2    3    4

4. When I don't exercise I feel guilty.

1    2    3    4

5. I sometimes feel like I don't want to exercise, but I go ahead and push myself anyway.

1    2    3    4

6. My best friend likes to exercise.

1    2    3    4

7. When I miss an exercise session, I feel concerned about my body possibly getting out of shape.

1    2    3    4

8. If I have planned to exercise at a particular time and something unexpected comes up (like an old friend comes to visit or I have some work to do that needs immediate attention) I will usually skip my exercise for that day.

1    2    3    4

9. If I miss a planned workout, I attempt to make up for it the next day.

1    2    3    4

10. I may miss a day of exercise for no good reason.

1    2    3    4

11. Sometimes, I feel a need to exercise twice in one day, even though I may feel a little tired.

1    2    3    4

12. If I feel I have overeaten, I will try to make up for it by increasing the amount I exercise.

1    2    3    4

13. When I miss a scheduled exercise session I may feel tense, irritable or depressed.

1    2    3    4

14. Sometimes, I find that my mind wanders to thoughts about exercising.

1    2    3    4

15. I have had daydreams about exercising.

1    2    3    4

16. I keep a record of my exercise performance, such as how long I work out, how far or fast I run.

1    2    3    4

17. I have experienced a feeling of euphoria or a "high" during or after an exercise session.

1    2    3    4

18. I frequently "push myself to the limits."

1    2    3    4

19. I have exercised when advised against such activity (i.e., by a doctor, friend, etc.).

1    2    3    4

20. I will engage in other forms of exercise if I am unable to engage in my usual form of exercise.

1    2    3    4

Scoring: To score the questionnaire, first reverse the scores for items 8 and 10 (for example, if you wrote "always 4" for Item #8, then reverse it to "1") and then obtain the total. If you score 30 or less, your exercise is probably not obligatory. Scores between 30 and 40 indicate there is reason for mild concern. Scores between 40 and 50 suggest you may have moderate problems with obligatory exercise. Scores above 50 mean you should consider finding ways to moderate your exercise.

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