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Over-exercising - How much is too much?

Behaviour, Depression, Weight loss, Mental Health | January 5, 2016 | Author: The Super Pharmacist

mental health, weight loss

Over-exercising - How much is too much?

Over-exercising is generally considered to mean exercising more than is necessary to maintain a good level of fitness but it has no clear definition. Most attempts to define the subject have come from agencies or healthcare professionals involved in the field of body dysmorphia. In this context, over-exercising (also commonly referred to as ‘over activity’) generally refers to individuals who continue to engage in a physical activity despite knowing the adverse consequences of doing so. It is also occasionally referred to as pathogenic exercise and exercise addiction. Over-exercising may also simply be an individual who is training excessively for an event in the belief that it is making them stronger and more competitive whilst being unaware of some of the consequences of doing so. The lack of a clear definition is symptomatic of the significantly under-researched nature of over-exercising.

Short and long-term consequences of over-exercising?

Over-exercise and a lack of adequate rest and recovery time can have significant health consequences in both the long and short-term. A lack of rest following extreme training is associated with an increased risk of stroke or other circulatory problems and extremely intense long term cardiovascular exercise is clearly linked to scarring of the heart and heart rhythm abnormalities. Evidence regarding the long term health effects of endurance training is accumulating, with an emerging number of studies highlighting that training for long distance events over a prolonged period of time can result in dilation and stretching of the heart’s chambers, particularly the atria and right ventricle. If exercise is reduced, heart function can return to normal levels within as little as two weeks, but if over-exercising is chronic it can lead to long term scarring, stiffening and enlargement of the heart. A comparative study comparing a cohort of men who ran marathons versus a control group who exercised over significantly smaller distances identified heart scarring in 12% of all marathon runners, a figure three times higher than those in the control group . A two year follow up study also found significantly higher numbers of heart attack and stroke risk in the exercise group when compared with the control population. Over-exercising in a way that places undue strain on the body through poor technique or over exertion can cause significant performance loss and severely limit the body’s ability to recover between bouts. The overexertion and exposure of particular muscles to excessive exercise can result in avoidable low level sprains and muscle damage through to rhabdomyolysis (a condition in which damaged skeletal muscle is broken down rapidly). This can be particularly serious and includes symptoms such as excessive vomiting, muscle pains, confusion and possible kidney failure as a result of damaged muscle cells and myoglobin being released into the bloodstream. Ensuring that the body has adequate recovery time is absolutely essential to both peak performance and all round health and wellbeing, and also stops a drop off in performance and the associated difficulties of maintaining a regular training schedule. Other short and long term consequences of over-exercising include increased fatigue, a reduced ability to concentrate for even short periods of time, decreased blood lactate and maximum oxygen uptake, adrenal exhaustion, and inhibited lactic acid response (leading to increased soreness and stiffness), hypothalamic dysfunction, and increased catabolic response (leading to muscle wastage). Individuals may also have significantly increased thirst, increased resting heart rate, insomnia, depression, changes in personality, increased propensity to injury and reduced levels of motivation. The best cure for almost all of these symptoms is complete rest, although this is something that many people who over-exercise find difficult for a complex range of reasons.

What is the relationship between over-exercising and eating disorders?

Over-exercising is a common symptom of both anorexia nervosa and bulimia (specifically so in exercise bulimia). Both of these illnesses are characterised by an excessive preoccupation with both body weight and shape, with Over-exercising - How much is too much?intensive exercise regularly used as a compensatory weight control mechanism alongside other techniques such as excessive dieting or purging behaviours. Within the context of an eating disorder, over exercise is excessive, purposeless physical activity that goes beyond any standard training regimen and is a significant detriment rather than an asset to individual health and wellbeing. Despite being used as a mechanism for losing weight, excessive exercising it is often an overlooked component of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. The evidence suggests that patients with bulimia nervosa who also engage in excessive exercise are in general much more likely to be depressed than non-exercising individuals with either of the conditions. Similarly, patients with anorexia nervosa who exercise excessively are much more likely to have moderate to severe levels of anxiety. Patients who have a problematic exercise often receive treatment similar to those undergoing treatment for addiction. This involves unpicking the reasons behind the desire to exercise excessively and gradually phasing patients back into general exercise. As cardiovascular exercise often presents the most anxiety to patients with eating disorders due to it being their preferred method of exercise for weight loss, phasing patients back into gentle cardio such as walking and low-level weight training in a controlled manner is often attempted as an initial step into building up a healthy attitude towards exercise. Reintroducing more strenuous exercises such as running, swimming and cycling may then need to be done under the supervision of certified exercise physiologist and/or a psychologist, with patients being asked to identify and subsequently resist their urges to increase the intensity of their workout or exercise plan. Managing the transition back into exercise allows patients to build a sense of accomplishment aligned to their ability to manage their thoughts and impulses in rejecting compulsive behaviour.

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References

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Aslanger E, Assous B, Bihry N, Beauvais F et al (2015) Effects of exercise on post-exercise ventricular-arterial coupling and pulsatile efficiency in patients with systolic dysfunction Eur J Clin Invest 45(10):1042-51

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O’Keefe JH, Patil HR, Lavie CJ, Magalski A, Vogel R, McCullough PA (2012) Potential adverse cardiovascular effects from excessive endurance events Mayo Clin Prac 87(6):587-95

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