Exercise Addiction: Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects - Paula Owens, MS

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Exercise Addiction: Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

Exercise Addiction - Paula Owens, MS Holistic Nutritionist and Functional Health PractitionerExercise addiction is probably the most contradictory of all addictions. Many compulsive exercisers have behaviors similar to drug addicts, including altered moods and withdrawal.

While some people are too sedentary, on the other end of the spectrum there are others who are obsessive and extreme in their mission for a leaner physique going overboard with exercise.

Exercise addicts define themselves by their strenuous exercise routines often causing physical exhaustion, despite ongoing injuries, fatigue, and exhausted adrenals. Little do they know, they’re putting their health at risk especially if they’re radically cutting back on food intake, undernourished and counting every single calorie they consume. Females who over-exercise and deprive themselves of proper nutrition can experience loss of menstruation cycles and ovulation, thereby increasing risk of osteoporosis, hormone dysfunction, stress fractures, a damaged metabolism, hypothyroid and adrenal fatigue.

Exercise Addiction, Overtraining and Under-RecoveryMore Exercise is Not Better. Although regular, consistent exercise is highly beneficial for overall health, mood, healthy aging, and fat loss, a compulsive exerciser will stop at nothing to get their fix. Not only is too much exercise counterproductive to most people’s fitness and health goals, but it is also a sign of a deeper underlying emotional problem. Those who have had an experience that they find painful, difficult or unable to cope with, or just afraid of it may dismiss the emotion, and exercise more as a way to repress, suppress or bury their emotions. Exercise addiction also plays a role in poor self-esteem, and use exercise as a drug to run away from looking deeper within at self.

Points to consider. How long are your workouts? After a 10 minute warm up, the actual workout should last no longer than 30-40 minutes, possibly even less than that. Spending more than an hour per workout is futile and detrimental to increasing strength, muscle size, optimizing hormones and decreasing body fat.

Testosterone levels peak after approximately 15 minutes of training and begin to level off after 30-45 minutes. Cortisol levels start rising after 30-40 minutes and anabolic levels (growth hormones) decrease.

Exercise addiction causes

  • production of sex hormones come to a halt
  • shorter telomeres and accelerated aging
  • metabolism declines
  • digestion is impaired
  • sleep is disturbed
  • bone density decreases
  • inflammation rises
  • blood sugar is disrupted
  • thyroid hormones are affected
  • you’ll experience brain fog, memory loss and low energy
  • belly fat increases and muscle mass decreases

Less is more! Muscle growth and adaptations to muscle occur during recovery and rest, not during the actual workout. Cutting back to 3-4 training sessions/week will induce greater gains in strength and recovery (some individuals may even need less).

Are you getting stronger with each workout? Are you losing or gaining body fat? Do you experience chronic aches and pains? Do you schedule in rest, recovery and relaxation days? If you exercise intensely day after day after day for hours, most likely you’re over-training and under-recovering.

Even though you may be training different muscles groups or performing different activities, you must take into consideration all systems of your body:

  • Endocrine/Hormonal System (HPA axis is in a hyper-aroused state)
  • Immune System
  • Digestive System
  • Central Nervous System. The nervous system takes 5-6 times longer to recover from exercise than the muscular system.
  • Emotional, Psychological and Spiritual

Individual Recovery Factors

  • Diet, how well you’re nourished including pre- and post-workout nutrition
  • Your age
  • Amount and type of exercise
  • Lifestyle (occupation, relationships, family, life events)
  • Hydration
  • Stress tolerance
  • Nutrient status
  • Sleep

Example: a 42 year old, type-A business person, with a family, travels for work, consumes a bagel and coffee for breakfast (major insulin spike), enjoys a martini or two before getting 4-5 hours of sleep. Individual lifestyle factors are extremely important considerations when designing an exercise program for this individual. Most trainers are over-training their clients. The wrong exercise program, excessive cardio or too much of any exercise will only create additional stress and hormone deficiencies, eventually leading to adrenal exhaustion, weakness, irritability, painful joints, fatigue, moodiness, depression, increased body fat and thyroid dysfunction.

Exercise Addiction Warning Signs

There is a fine line between training hard and over-training. Engaging in physically demanding activities too regularly or too intensely can contribute to many different symptoms of overtraining. Exercise addiction and excessive amounts of exercise can cause a variety of health problems, especially for those dealing with other concurrent stressors such as autoimmune disease, gut dysbiosis, thyroid dysfunction or adrenal fatigue.

  • Elevated resting A.M. heart rate (this is the #1 indicator of an over-trained and under-recovered individual)
  • Biochemical depression
  • Suppressed immune system, low SIgA
  • Body needs longer and longer warm up time
  • Chronic injuries that don’t heal
  • Overuse of NSAIDs and OTC anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Constant muscle soreness
  • Craving stimulants, caffeine and sugars. While caffeine is okay before your workout, consuming caffeine post workout is a no-no as it increases cortisol production.
  • Decreased strength and performance
  • Decreased appetite
  • Low libido
  • Insomnia, late bedtimes, disrupted or poor quality sleep
  • Fear and worry that you’ll gain weight if you skip exercise for just one day
  • Feeling brain-dead; fatigued; loss of motivation and low energy
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Increased belly fat from the excess cortisol and decreased lean muscle tissue. Body fat levels that don’t lower in response to exercise.
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight exposure
  • Muscle cramps, due to mineral deficiencies (particularly magnesium and zinc) from over-exercising and stress.
  • Relationships and social life are impacted taking a back seat to exercise
  • Salt cravings (symptom of exhausted adrenals)

Rest, Relaxation and Recovery

Rest, relaxation and recovery are an overlooked and neglected component when it comes to building muscle, breaking through plateaus, losing stubborn body fat, improving performance and overall health.

It’s important to balance intense sympathetic dominant activities with calming parasympathetic activities. Failure to respect and value this crucial aspect can lead to strained adrenal glands and a fried nervous system. R&R is necessary for hormone balance, tissue repair, muscle growth, improved performance, and physiological and psychological recuperation. So, what can you do?

  • Avoid extreme amounts of exercise, especially excessive aerobic, cardio-style exercise
  • Schedule a weekly or monthly massage or some form of body work.
  • Use the foam roller before and after workouts.
  • Enhance your workouts with BCAAs
  • Consume post-exercise nutrition within 10-20 minutes post training. Protein, BCAAs and L-glutamine powder can help to facilitate muscle recovery, accelerate muscle glycogen re-synthesis and glutamine levels, which are critical in creating an anabolic environment. Add a scoop of powdered greens to your post workout shake lowers cortisol and invokes an alkaline environment.
  • More is not better. Schedule in rest days – it’s part of the program.
  • Enjoy personal downtime and relaxation every day (meditation, massage, yin and restorative yoga, spend more time in nature, read, deep breathing, walking, prayer, stretching, etc.) Take a week off every 3 months.
  • Have your metabolism assessed. Identify your unique nutrient deficiencies and excesses via a Blood Chemistry Analysis to determine your bio-individualized supplement program. It’s not a “one-supp-fits-all” approach.
  • Fuel your body properly with a nutrient-dense, real foods. Ensure that your protein intake is at least 1 gram per pound of body weight and load up on the veggies, leafy greens and healthy fats.
  • Take the appropriate nutrients to support your activity level.
  • Periodize your workouts as per the 12-Week Exercise Program found in Fat Loss Revolution.
  • Hydrate! Dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels.
  • Sleep (7-9 restful hours each night) to ensure adequate recovery from intense exercise. If you’re not sleeping well, growth hormone is inhibited, androgens are disrupted, you will end of craving crap food, and your body fat increases!

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