Hey readers! This post is going to be about crossing the line of moderation when it comes to “healthy” habits, and ways the media may enable specific dysfunctions.
There are a few core activities that mental health experts recommend for everyone to do in order to prevent/treat symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. These include a healthy diet, and physical activity. Something that is not discussed as much as it should be is the preoccupation with these activities, specifically exercise, and how harmful it can be for a persons well-being. I am here to shine light on the prevalence of exercise addiction/dependence. It is very easy to feel isolated in the experience. This is because society often encourages these behaviors and labels anything having to do with exercise and as beneficial.
Feeling like you have to complete a workout in order to look/feel good about yourself can be a heavy weight to bare. If the prospect of never having to participate in your current exercise regime relieves you, or if the thought of taking an extra rest day terrifies you, then you might be struggling with some level of dependence. I am here to tell you that you are not alone.
There are small-cognitive-focused changes that a person can work through in order to overcome exercise dependence. These include slowly changing the current routine to incorporate less exertion, and implementing more rest days. When the brain is able to separate exercise from the specific dependence that is tied to (this may look different for everyone; image, success) then it increases in flexibility. This rewires the pathways associated with exercise, success, attractiveness, worth, etc. To anyone going through exercise dependence, this may sound relieving to say the least. The behavior has to change before the thoughts do, so it is important to make a plan and take action. This is easier said than done, however it is life changing to no longer have to rely on exercise to feel okay about the day.
Regular exercise has been shown to help manage healthy blood sugar, insulin levels, blood pressure, and cortisol levels (Weinstein & Weinstein, 2014). However, high levels of exercise can spike cortisol levels which kickstarts widespread inflammation in the body and immunity (Weinstein & Weinstein, 2014). This can cause cortisol to remain elevated, and the body gets stuck in “fight or flight”. There are several implications of a sustained stress response such as chronic fatigue, trouble sleeping, weakened immunity, and hormonal imbalance (Weinstein & Weinstein, 2014). This is empirical evidence that reveals how over-exercising can contribute to negative health risks, despite what the media portrays.
I bring up the science because most of the information that circulates the media reveals the positive aspects of exercise, but it is important to understand there are limitations to the benefits of exercise. As the famous quote by Mark Twain goes; too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
All in all, it is important to tune into your body and listen to it. Our bodies are wise and they tell us exactly what we need in order to function at our optimal level. If you are injured, take sufficient rest days and continue to eat nourishing foods. If you are tired take days off. Switch out a run for walk in the forest, or some stretching.
Internal conflicts run their course when we neglect our feelings and gut instincts. Outside voices can easily take over with the constant “should” and “what ifs”, but in the grand scheme of things those things don’t determine your happiness or your worth.
If you are looking for a sign to take a break from your current work-out routine, here it is! Take a few days to relax and recover. It’s okay to do nothing sometimes. Your fitness/productivity is not a representation of your worth!
Thanks for reading 🙂
Weinstein, A., & Weinstein, Y. (2014). Exercise addiction- diagnosis, bio-psychological mechanisms and treatment issues. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20(25), 4062–4069. https://doi.org/10.2174/13816128113199990614