When exercise becomes harmful


If your life revolves around the gym or your run, regardless of a family emergency, illness or an injury, read on

There are people who struggle to go to the gym. And then there are those for whom it’s a second home. ‘What’s the big deal?’ you may say. After all, you’re simply committed to your health.

Getting anxious every time you skip an exercise session is a big deal, believes Dr Tanay Maiti, senior resident psychiatrist at CMC Vellore. Addicted to the feeling of euphoria caused by the rise in concentration of norepinephrine and serotonin, and secretion of endorphins by the pituitary gland during strenuous exercise, exercise junkies push the health pedal so hard that they don’t realise when it’s hurting.

Talking about identifying exercise addiction, Dr Maiti says, “Exercising for long hours, preferring exercising over any other things in life and at odd hours, continuing exercise despite pain, injury or against medical advice could be prominent early signs of exercise addiction,” he says, adding that there are psychometric tools to quantify the problem.

A dangerous obsession

So how much is enough, really? Dr Rajesh Benny, marathon runner and consultant neurologist at Fortis Hospital, Mumbai, says, “Running a marathon is a fashion statement.” But many novice runners tend to be in a constant post-workout state by not resting sufficiently between days of long runs. This can lead to build up of toxic metabolites in the muscles which can prove dangerous. And yes, there is the tremendous stress on the bones and joints to worry about too. “So, train slowly, wisely and gradually, to reap the benefits of running,” he says.

Middle-aged men, some of who have never indulged in endurance exercises in their youth, are often at risk because, “exercising a muscle if done excessively or incorrectly can lead to muscle breakdown. This may prove dangerous especially when it involves the heart,” he says.

Dr Manu Bora, orthopaedic and sports medicine surgeon, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon, adds, “Excessive exertion can exert too much pressure on our heart and blood vessels, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems like angina, tachycardia, irregular cardiac rhythm, aneurysm, bleeding, even myocardial infarction and stroke.”

So what is the optimum level of activity one needs to get? Bangalore-based certified Zumba and fitness instructor, Sherene Vijayakumar believes, “An hour of exercise including cardio and strength training is ideal. If you are practising something like Zumba, you can do a 50- to 60-minute workout for five days a week as it has elements of cardio and toning. However, I would suggest incorporating two to three days a week of additional strength training,” she says. Nothing more.

Deleterious to your health

Dr Benny says, “Overexercising can weaken one’s immune system and leave one feeling tired and sad.” Additionally, it can make people become more susceptible to colds and flu.

Free radical damage, ongoing sun exposure and a high-protein diet which often goes with excessive exercise can lead to early ageing in both men and women. In extreme cases, the menstrual cycle may cease. Dr Nameeta Bhalerao, fertility consultant, says, “There are many proven studies that around 19% of body fat is required to maintain proper hormonal balance. When you overexercise, the minimal amount of fat that is required gets burnt and there is a huge change in the hormones.”

An exercise addiction may also lead to dysfunctional relationships. A person starts avoiding social interaction and turns to exercise instead. This leads to conflict in relationship.

Over-exercising can affect the career of a person because the obsession becomes so much that one stops concentrating on his/her work.

Dr Maiti says, “They cannot think of a life without exercise and have anxiety attacks if they have to go without exercise even for a day. Addressing the cognitions behind it through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) principles can be helpful,” he says, adding that overexercising is often linked to anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder, and depression.

Addiction of any kind, even if it is related to fitness, is toxic to your well-being. Unfortunately, many addicts are in denial and don’t see anything wrong with their behaviour.

Identifying and quantifying the problem is the first step towards solving the issue. After all, as Mukul Chowdhary, certified Hatha Yoga instructor from Bengaluru, says, “Health is not just about physical fitness, but it is also about mental and spiritual well-being. So, it is important that a person knows where to stop.”

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 12:18:48 AM |

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