I’m not messing around here. You can take exercise too far and it can become unhealthy. How far is too far, thankfully pretty far. Let’s see what the science says and how you know it might be time to scale back. Let’s delve deep into that line between we all so it and too much.
You skip social things you would otherwise do
In other words it becomes the most important thing in your life. Your exercise isn’t just a part of your identity it’s the only or main part. Now we’ve all used the long run, early race or physio excuse to get out of something we don’t want to do even if it’s not totally true but if you start skipping things you would like to do that’s a sign. In fact right now I’m looking for a race to get out of a social obligation I REALLY don’t want to go to, but I’m not actually going to do it. If you are training for a major race it can seem that way but this thinking, and mentioning again that you are marathon training, can’t go on year round. If a Friday dinner is something you’d normally be up for and you’re skipping it to exercise give yourself an x.
You continue to train when injured, especially it the doctor says to stop
This is a tough one because to a certain extent we all do it. Training can mean you will eventually be injured and old injuries will certainly act up. We all push the time lines, skip the physio, add braces and try until it hurts. Hell I half think the reason triathlon is the fasted growing sport is due to all the injured runners out there. We all (or is it just me?) avoid going to the doctor should he/she tell you to stop completely. At some point though, especially if you keep training, a trip to the doctor is inevitable. If you are ignoring clear medical instructions and training anyway that’s a bad sign. If you are consistently exercising through pain you’re getting close to the line.
Your mood depends on your workout
Skipping even a single run can negatively affect the mood of habitual runners (5 days a week+) so I guess science has found that this is ‘normal’ in committed exercisers, the scientific term for those not addicted. I usually tell honey when to expect me back from a run but I have sent texts like, “I’m going to keep going because I think that’s preferable to stabbing a neighbour.” I’ve also uttered the phrase, “I’m going for a run so I can pretend to be angry at that for a while.” If I’m particularly cranky people have suggested that I might have time to sneak in a run. But this line comes when you start using exercise to control your mood. I think you have to be honest with yourself on this one because no one can tell but you. Run out the crazy and running is cheaper than therapy are slogans for a reason and probably a healthy mind set. But… only you know if you are using exercise as an alcoholic might use a few drinks.
It’s all just a series of numbers and equations
This leads into other issues like anorexia, bulimia and orthorexia as well but carries over into addiction to exercise. If you’re adding up your calories, macros, steps, stand hours in order to see if you’ve earned or have ‘space’ for a piece of cake this is a major problem. If you extend your workouts to earn or work off a food item this is very unhealthy. However connecting food and weight to exercise isn’t always unhealthy. Working out so you don’t have to watch what you eat, because it helps you control your weight or even to loose weight if you need to while following a new healthier diet strictly are not usually causes for concern.
Time spent exercising could be better served
If you are behind on anything at all isn’t that always true? Right now, sending bills, housework in a major way and blogging, plus I should go get groceries. But for tomorrow’s Nike Global 5K, I’ll be in beautiful Peggy’s Cove and going for a run (update, I forgot my brace)! If you are behind to the point that that is negatively affecting your life and you are still exercising almost daily for more than 30 minutes that’s a sign. Studies suggest that 30 minuets of running 3-5 days a week or about 15-20 km a week is enough for you to reap the maximum health benifit
Your relationships are suffering or distant
You don’t have to have actually conflict over the amount your working out but if you are maybe it’s time to listen to your concerned loved ones. If your friendships are more distant than they used to be and you’re shocked to find out one of them went through something big and you didn’t even know it’s definitely time to reconnect. Is your after supper run, weekend long run and race schedule mean that your missing things with your friends and family or you’re too tiered to really enjoy them? Are you there but eyeing your watch and figuring out how to squeeze in a run. If this is the case it’s time to take a long hard look at your priorities. Sure you might miss a social engagement or drag yourself through a dance recital in peak week but if your relationships are suffering you might have a problem.
You suffer withdraw symptoms when you can’t exercise
You get restless and moody, you’re frustrated and you have immense feelings of guilt when you skip a planned workout. In one study about 6% of heavy regular exercisers experienced withdraw symptoms akin to those alcoholics experience when they are prevented from drinking. But don’t we all feel guilty about skipping a long run in training? Is that even an option for you, I’ve never done it so… but speed work, I’ve skipped lots of that. It’s true some days you just need your run or your bike ride home is like therapy. If you find yourself lashing out and you realized you’re frustrated because you were prevented from working out it’s time to scale back.
It’s just not fun like it used to be but you keep increasing
There’s no rush like your first 5k or your first half marathon and I can see how that eventually ends up with ultra races. Perhaps your fast and there is nothing like your first win. And it’s true not every run is a good run, not every workout is a great one and sometimes when your training none seem fun and you find yourself wondering why you ever started this. But if those good ones are fewer and further between and your still increasing the frequency, intensity or duration of your workouts to try to get that great feeling back your defiantly a candidate for exercise addition.
If you think that you might be crossing the line in any of these categories you should take a long hard think over the next week or so. If you feel like you cross into a couple or more you might think about scaling back for a while and if you find yourself unable to do that it very well could be time to seek help. If this is something you are familiar with please add your voice to this conversation.
Read the studies I read:
Click to access The-Exercise-Addiction-Inventory-A-new-brief-screening-tool.pdf