For most runners, there's a stage when simply getting out the door on a rainy night is the biggest challenge you have to face and the concept of overdoing it seems laughable. But if you find yourself exercising compulsively and you aren’t able to stop, your healthy hobby could be dangerously close to turning into an addiction.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is proven to benefit your body and your mind. But sometimes the line between wellness and obsession can become blurred.
Are you overdoing it?
Fitness levels and routines are relative to every individual; some people workout three times a week, others exercise six out of seven days without fail. There’s a fine line between dedication and obsession. The problem is that people don't recognise exercise as an addiction in the same way as they would drugs, alcohol or overeating.
A report published by Psychology Today estimates that three per cent of Britons suffer from exercise addiction, and with gym memberships soaring by 44 per cent in the UK last year alone, this figure is set to rise. If you start to feel like the world will fall in on itself if you take a day off from training or tuck into a slice of cake, these could be telltale signs that you need to cut yourself some slack.
When is it too much?
Giving it 100 per cent every time you work out may build muscle, burn fat and boost endorphins, but punishing yourself with excessive high impact exercise could be causing more harm than good. Ironically if you exercise to unwind, it could be doing the exact opposite.
One of the downsides to regular high intensity exercise without resting properly can be Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Dr. Michael Lam identifies some of the symptoms of AFS as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, inability to lose weight, feeling anxious and brain fog. As a result of AFS, the stress busting hormone cortisol becomes lowered, meaning that the body finds it harder to deal with stress when it rears its ugly head.
Other cons to excessive high-impact exercise can include overuse injuries, joint problems, arthritis and strained joints, ligaments or tendons. If you're not sure, it might be time to swap your back-to-back HIIT classes for a gentle swim or take a holiday.
8 signs you're a fitness junkie
- You feel restless, suffer from insomnia or experience other negative effects if you don’t exercise.
- You fail to take rest days and feel guilty or anxious when you do.
- You train like a professional athlete, but you aren't one.
- You define your happiness by your PBs and body confidence.
- Your relationships suffer because you regularly cancel social engagements in favour of training.
- You keep exercising even when you're injured, tired or unwell.
- You feel run down, overtired and depressed.
- You are overly self critical and competitive.
Strike a balance
If you're run down, overtired, or your gruelling running regime is stressing you out, it might be time to take a step back and find some balance. Equilibrium is essential and a healthy approach to fitness is allowing your exercise to benefit your life, not rule it.
Everything in moderation
A good way to rationalise cutting back your mileage or spending less time in the gym is to put things into perspective. Taking a break can be hard mentally, but the world isn’t going to stop turning if you arrange to see a friend instead of doing leg day at the gym. Nor will hell freeze over if you treat yourself to a cupcake every once in a while.
You only live once and the occasional treat or well earned rest day won’t impact you or your running performance. Equally, you are more than entitled to treat yourself to cake even if it's not preluded by a killer run.
Revaluate your goals
Goals are wonderful things and essential for motivation, but it’s still perfectly OK to live in the here and now and be happy with where you’re at. If you feel like your aims are the route cause of your anxiety, or that the pressures to perform, lose weight or aim high are causing you to become obsessed with your fitness, add some patience into the mix. Set a long term goal with achievable targets rather than quick fixes and relieve some pressure.
Remember why you started
Did you start exercising to feel exhausted, beat yourself up or be down on yourself? If that's currently how you feel but the answer is no, it pays to remember why you laced up your trainers in the first place. Whether it was to unwind, explore the great outdoors or learn to love yourself, make exercise a fun prospect again and let yourself get back to square one without any added pressure to perform.
Phone a friend
It's easy to feel as though people won't understand, or that you'll be talking to a brick wall by voicing how you feel. Yet talking is one of the best remedies to rationalising a situation that you may no longer have control of. Your loved ones will be there for you, so don't be afraid to ask for help.
If you were addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling, you would be expected to seek help. The same goes for exercise addiction. If fitness is starting to take over your life and you don't know what to do, speak to your GP.