Addicted to exercise

When exercise is taken to extreme measures that compromise health, the immune and hormonal systems are challenged negatively.

by Paula Owens — 

The number of people addicted to extreme exercise has increased. These individuals define themselves by their strenuous workout routines and are obsessive in their missions for leaner physiques. Little do they know that they are putting their health at risk, especially if they are radically cutting back on their food intake and counting every calorie.

Females who over-exercise (a.k.a. exercise bulimia) and deprive themselves of proper nutrition can experience loss of menstruation cycles and ovulation. This sets them up for risk of osteoporosis and stress fractures. Muscle dysmorphia is a disorder wherein people are pathologically obsessed with their muscularity. Compulsive exercisers will stop at nothing to get their “high,” including injuries, sickness, exhaustion, hormonal disruption or damage to their health.

Regular, consistent exercise is definitely good for health, vitality, longevity and fat loss. However, when exercise is taken to extreme measures that compromise health, the immune and hormonal systems are challenged negatively.

Your fitness program and proper recovery are just two components that affect your success and desired results. The phrase “less is more” also applies to your exercise program. After a 10 to 12 minute warm-up, your actual workout should last no longer than one hour. Thirty to 40 minutes may actually be better. One can train hard and intelligently or put in countless, long hours — but you cannot do both optimally. Spending two hours per workout is not only futile, but is also detrimental for increasing strength, muscle size, and hormonal balance and decreasing body fat.

Cortisol levels (the catabolic, growth-inhibiting stress hormone) start rising after 30 to 40 minutes, and anabolic levels (growth hormones) decrease. Anabolic hormones are highest 20 to 30 minutes into the workout. Extremely high levels of cortisol can cause an increase in body fat over time, particularly at the abdominal skin fold. Muscle growth and tissue adaptations occur during recovery and rest, not during the actual workout.

Are you getting stronger each time you workout? Are you losing body fat? How long are you recovering between workouts? If you continually exercise intensely, day after day, you are probably over-training. Even though you may be training different muscles groups, you must take into consideration the hormonal, immune and central nervous systems. The nervous system can take five to six times longer to recover from exercise than the muscular system. Cutting back to three or four training sessions per week can induce greater gains in strength, recovery and body fat loss.

Recovery is different for every person. Factors to take into account include: quality rest and sleep; age; diet and nutrition; fitness level; hydration; lifestyle and stress management (job, relationships, etc.); massage; post-exercise nutrition; and proper supplementation. Age only accounts for 15 to 20 percent of recovery time. The remaining factors are all within your control.

For example, a 42-year-old, type-A businessman who travels for work, consumes a bagel and coffee for breakfast, and enjoys a martini or two before getting four to five hours of sleep, is creating additional stress which contributes to his inability to recover from exercise. These factors are extremely important to consider when designing a program for him, specifically.

While one factor may lead to over-training, additional lifestyle patterns can lead to increased stress and possible adrenal exhaustion, causing weakness, irritability, painful joints, fatigue and increased body fat. Promote your highest level of recovery and get the body you love by:

  • Avoiding excessive amounts of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise
  • Scheduling bodywork (massage, ART, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture)
  • Consuming the proper ratio and calories of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats for your biochemistry to prevent catabolism
  • Avoiding extended periods without food
  • Enjoying personal down time and relaxation every day
  • Keeping a training log and food diary
  • Keeping your body hydrated
  • Taking proper supplementation
  • Sleeping seven to nine restful hours each night (lights out by 10 p.m.)
  • Doing stress management and relaxation techniques daily (meditation, massage, deep breathing, prayer, reading, yoga, etc.)

Recovery from over-training and adrenal fatigue can extend for long periods of time (sometimes more than six months). Learn to train smarter and your efforts will definitely prove worthwhile.

Warning signs of addiction to exercise

  • Biochemical depression
  • Needing a longer warm-up time
  • Chronic injuries that don’t heal
  • Constant muscle soreness
  • Craving stimulants, caffeine and sugars
  • Decrease in performance
  • Reduced appetite
  • Disrupted and/or poor sleep quality
  • Elevated blood pressure and resting heart rate
  • Feeling brain-dead; fatigued; low libido
  • Frequent colds and infections, lowered immune system
  • Body fat levels that do not respond to physical exercise
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight
  • Loss of motivation
  • Muscle cramps, due to mineral deficiencies from
  • over-exercising and stress
  • Relationships and social life that take a backseat to exercise


Paula Owens is a holistic practitioner, nutritionist, fitness expert and weight-loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. She is the author of The Power of 4: Your Ultimate Guide Guaranteed to Change Your Body and Transform Your Life. or 480-706-1158.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 2, Apr/May 2010.

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