While exercise is highly beneficial to your health, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Here are a few physical and mental signs to look for.
BY: SARAH SCHLICHTER, MPH, RD
We all know that exercise is good for us, offering a long list of positive health benefits that do not need to be listed here. However, exercise can cross into dangerous territory when it becomes an obsession or a tool to compensate for or validate your eating habits.
It can lead to a hyperfocus on calories burned, which can then translate to calories eaten. Over time, a hyperfocus on exercise can take you away from the mind-body connection that you are working so hard to establish.
After all, exercising is just as much about feeling good within your body.
Also known as intuitive exercise, it’s about framing movement in a way that focuses on helping you sustain patterns of activity so it can be sustainable for the long run. A question to ask yourself is:
Are you doing this because you want to be doing this, or are you doing it because you feel like you have to be doing it?
If it’s the former, great! You are probably engaging in intuitive movement and reaping the health benefits. But if it’s the latter, exercise (or the type of exercise) may not be serving you right now.
Here’s how to gauge the type of exercise that’s healthy for you in the long run.
1. Exercise enhances the mind-body connection.
Exercise isn’t meant to confuse or dysregulate your mind and body. If your body wants rest, forcing it to exercise is not enhancing the mind-body connection. Instead, it veers more towards exercise addiction, which can wear the body down. If your choice of movement is not boosting your endorphins, uplifting your mood, or enhancing the connection between your mood, mind, and body, then it’s probably time to try something else.
Exercise should help you feel in tune with your body. Some telltale signs of this alignment include:
- You can vary your workout based on how you feel (fatigue, soreness, tightness)
- You think more clearly after exercise
- You feel more like yourself after exercise
- You enjoy the things that go along with exercise (social connection, achieving non-aesthetic goals)
- You would continue to engage in that type of exercise regardless of calories burned or if it had no influence over your body size
2. Exercise is viewed with flexibility, not rigidity.
Just as our food and calorie needs vary by the day, so should our exercise. Consider the “gray” parts and nuance of exercise – it’s far from black and white. There are so many forms of movement available to our bodies, similar to the abundance and variety of food choices.
Intuitive movement simply means choosing the one that serves you in the moment. Sometimes, it means choosing none at all. Engaging in a variety of exercise is good for us, rather than relying solely on one type alone. Ask yourself:
- Do you feel guilty if you don’t exercise every day?
- Do you feel anxious and uncomfortable if you’re not moving a certain amount of minutes/days per week?
- Would you still engage in this exercise if it had 0% chance of changing your body?
If we only look at exercise as a vehicle for burning calories or a way to eat more food, then we’re missing nearly all of the benefits that exercise has to offer and we’re only strengthening the rigid black and white thinking we’re trying to move away from.
3. Exercise alleviates your mental and physical stress.
Exercise is a stressor on our bodies. In some situations, that acute stress can be a positive thing. In other situations, it can contribute to an already-stressed out body and exacerbate symptoms, both mentally and physically.
Compulsive exercise can also increase the risk of injury, increase stress hormones, and lead to mental anxiety and a poorer mood. While exercise can enhance our mood in some situations, if exercise is the only way to manage your emotions, it can be a stressor in our life. Signs of overexercise include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Inadequate recovery
- Weaker immune system
- Increased risk of injury
- Poor appetite
- Decreased performance
Alternatively, when exercise is done out of enjoyment, it helps alleviate physical and mental stress. There is a decrease in stress hormones, improved mood and immunity, and better sleep.
4. Exercise provides genuine enjoyment and pleasure, not pain or punishment.
Does your exercise plan change based on what you ate? Are you trying to burn more calories because you ate dessert last night, or more food yesterday in general? Do you have no desire to exercise, but still find yourself pulling up to the gym and dreading it?
These are all signs of overexercise, compulsive exercise, or just exercising out of force and necessity.
On the flip side, a positive relationship with exercise looks more flexible. For example, it can be trying a new workout class with a friend for social connection and the enjoyment of moving your body in a new way.
It can be going to your favorite workout class each week because you really love the teacher and class. It can also mean going out for a run by yourself because you value the alone time, and running makes you feel happier and stronger.
Checking in with yourself about the intention of exercise is important. Why are you doing this? Is it providing enjoyment and pleasure, or is it a punishment?
Exercise is meant to be enjoyed. If you’re not enjoying it, continuing to do it for the sake of doing it can cause further disconnect between your mind and body.
5. Exercise rejuvenates your body, rather than exhausting or depleting it.
Like time with your friends or solo time, exercise fills your cup up and rejuvenates you. At times, it can lead to acute exhaustion, but chronic exhaustion is a sign that something is not right. If you are constantly feeling depleted and not like your normal self, it may be time to reevaluate your exercise plan.
In fact, being too rigid with exercise can actually worsen your mood. It can also lead to poorer immunity and a higher risk of bodily injuries or dysfunction (such as stress fractures, delayed recovery, extreme fatigue, insomnia and hypothalamic amenorrhea, to name a few). If you can’t fathom the idea of a rest day, you are overexercising and depleting your body.
Remember, a healthy relationship with exercise is not only about making your bones and muscles stronger, but also about flexing your mental strength.
Focus your exercise goals on feeling good, and your body will thank you for it.
Adapted from the original article.
Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s in Public Health, a freelance writer, nutrition counselor and recipe developer. In her nutrition practice, she works 1-1 with athletes and those looking to normalize their relationship with food through an intuitive eating approach. Learn more at www.bucketlisttummy.com.