Hazards of over-exercising

THE DANGERS of too much exercise rarely get as much attention as the dangers of a deskbound lifestyle. Unlike a sedentary, overweight person, an athlete who is exercising way more than he needs to is difficult to spot.

Ironically, the worst cases are super athletes: they usually follow up a career of hard training, glory and fame with an equally successful career making money for orthopaedicians.

Hazards of over-exercising

Stress fractures, rotator cuff injuries, osteoarthritis and so on are distressingly common in workhorse fast bowlers, but this article is not about their plight. It is about the guy who jogs one round too many around the school ground, the anorexic girl who accelerates her slide into poor health by exercising `at normal levels' in addition to starving herself, and the woman athlete who trains so hard that her menstrual periods stop.

Anorexic girls who exercise to lose weight rather than to maintain health do the greatest harm to their bodies. At a time when their bones should be laying up valuable stores of calcium and minerals to help withstand the rigours of post-menopausal life, the combination of too little food and relatively too much exercise means that bone mineral depletion takes place. A similar effect occurs when thin girls take up exercise without paying enough attention to diet and nutrition. After a point, the body never really catches up with this loss even after a return to good health. The key to preventing this requires a caring support group of family members and friends who are knowledgeable enough to recognise the subtle signs of Anorexia nervosa - fixation with body image, a ferocious disdain for normal food, insomnia, amenorrhoea, low self-esteem and more . The treatment is a combination of psychiatric therapy, good nutrition and a measured programme of exercise.

Some women athletes experience a halt to the normal menstrual cycle, and this condition is more common with high-intensity training. Indeed, they look at it as a sign that they are training hard enough. The low oestrogen levels linked with this phase bring about all the effects one normal associates with an early menopause-especially depletion of bone minerals. If the hard training goes on for long enough, it is enough to create an early stage of osteoporosis. Stop and consult your doctor if your periods halt during training. Stress fractures are common in all sports involving running and jumping. While good footwear and good technique prevent some of these injuries, the long-term solution is to try to match what you want from your body with what it is capable of delivering. Build up skeletal strength by weight training and proper nutrition. While any exercise of moderate intensity builds up the skeleton, ultra-high intensity exercise does the opposite. So don't try to break a world record in training. Pace yourself, and reserve your best for the big occasions. After all, your bones have only so much to give.


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