It is a person’s attitude that determines how much exercise is too much for a person, say mental health experts at The Menninger Clinic.
The researchers say that people who exercise frequently because they enjoy it, and like the health benefits it provides have the right reason in mind, but those participating in physical activities due to compulsions or in spite of injuries may be at a risk of developing an exercise disorder.
"There is no set formula or standard that reveals how much exercising is too much. But if exercising is interfering in a person’s life, and it is compulsory, then it may be a problem," says Dr Theresa Fassihi, a psychologist with the Eating Disorders Program at The Menninger Clinic.
Dr Fassihi treats patients in the Eating Disorders Program who over exercise in an attempt to burn off calories. She says that it is common for patients with exercise disorders to also have an eating disorder, and that the problems occur when body perception doesn’t match reality.
The researchers say that persons involved in activities or professions that require physical beauty or high levels of physical performance, such as athletes and dancers, are particularly vulnerable to developing exercise disorders.
"If you have an exercising disorder, you also may be very preoccupied about your body’s appearance, weight and muscle mass. You spend a lot of time looking at yourself, scrutinising yourself, measuring yourself and constantly working out to create the muscle mass or lean body that you want," Dr Fassihi says.
She further said that many persons with exercise disorders restrict their calories, based on the mistaken belief that they will build a higher proportion of muscle if they restrict their food intake while exercising, but in fact they lose both muscle and fat, putting their health at risk.
"Over exercising can cause significant damage to the body. It can increase the risk of injuries for both men and women. Women may be more at risk for osteoporosis if they are over exercising and restricting their food intake, and they may stop menstruating completely. Men may use steroids and protein powders to help them achieve their goals, leading to other health problems," she said.
Experts say that over exercising is believed to affect the quality of life because it leaves people with lesser amount of time to socialise.
"Over-exercising interferes with their quality of life because they devote so much of their time to exercise to the exclusion of anything else. Their time is not available for socialising, relationships or work. It is all-consuming," Dr Fassihi says.
She also suggested how people can find out from their attitude towards exercise whether they have problems with over exercising. She says that some people may be exercising too much if they feel that they cannot miss their workout, and feel extremely guilty and uneasy whenever they miss a workout.
Despite noticing that instead of helping their body, they are damaging it, if people feel like having to exercise, they may be suffering from exercise disorder. Also a symptom of the problem is getting more injuries, or not stopping exercising despite hearing family and friends expressing concern about ones exercise regimen.
Dr Fessihi insists that people who believe that have an over exercising disorder or at risk for developing an over exercising disorder, must seek help from a trusted advisor—a coach or teacher, or a doctor or mental health professional.