The Dangers of Compulsive Exercise

Sideline: Your friends at Fuse Pilates strive to keep you entertained and informed. We like funny, off-the-wall things just as much as the next ADD-afflicted millennial. But sometimes we have to put on our serious hat. This is one of those times.

Exercising is fun. It boosts your endorphins, improves your body image, and gives you energy. The doctor says you should do it regularly. And society says so too. But what happens when a healthy habit turns into an unhealthy addiction.

Although working out has many substantial benefits to your body, over-exercising can do the exact opposite. Along the same lines of bulimia and anorexia, compulsive exercising is a physiological disorder. Here, an individual feels compelled to exercise excessively; aiming to burn the calories and fat reserves to a level that he or she believes negatively impacts their body.

Anorexia Athletica (Exercise Bulimia)
One form of compulsive exercising is anorexia athletica, in which the body is worked far beyond the requirements for good health. Individuals with anorexia athletica are frantic about their weight and diet, and may steal time out of work or even relationships in order to find time to workout. They purposely eat less than what they burn off during a working out. Oftentimes, athletes develop this disorder since they have a high need for achievement and the nature of their sport requires they be meticulous about working out.

Here are some key signs to look for:
  • Constant attention to weight and diet
  • Sneaking away (from work or school) to go exercise
  • Defining self worth by performance
  • Never being satisfied with athletic achievement
  • Constant need for a challenge
  • Justifying compulsive behavior as “healthy”
  • Lack of control over fitness habits
  • A dangerously low body fat percentage
  • Working out while injured or sick
  • Not taking days to recover
  • Becoming depressed if a workout is missed
  • Working out for hours on end (obsession for exercise)

Damaging Effects
Anorexia athletica or exercise bulimia is nearly as common in men as it is in women. This compulsive disorder is a desire for control, much like those with eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. If you have this and you’re not careful, what was once a healthy desire to exercise can turn into an endless workout, since you don't ever feel satisfied with your body no matter how frequently you hit the gym.

For females, under-fueling and over exercising can impact the ovaries’ ability to produce estrogen, resulting in menstrual cycle irregularities. This low estrogen also accelerates the loss of bone density, making people more prone to brittle bones and even osteoporosis.

Some of the many dangers of anorexia athletica include:
  • Injuries caused from over-working the body (fractures, strains and sprains)
  • Bone loss and amenorrhea (loss of period due to a low body fat percentage)
  • Frequent fatigue
  • Heart problems
  • Severe dehydration
  • Onset of osteoporosis and arthritis
  • Possible reproductive problems

The damage that occurs from excessively (obsessively) working out is mostly from the failure to allow the body to rest – a requirement to recover from the strain even smart exercise causes. Resting and giving your body time to repair is extremely important even for a regular workout, so in the case of compulsive exercising, the levels of damage are detrimental to your health. Exercising is meant to be fun, healthy and beneficial to your body. It can help reduce stress and anxiety, and supply a healthy endorphin rush after a great workout. However, when someone overuses exercise in a detrimental way, there may signs of addition.

If you or someone you know is struggling with compulsive exercising, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at 1.800.931.2237.

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