Exercise: What's Too Much?

>> Sunday, August 8, 2010

When I started training for longer distances races, my mileage, naturally, went way up. So did my resolve to get in all my prescribed workouts and to track my progress. After each workout, I'd scrawl my stats onto a calendar with the miles run, mile pace, and total time. Check, check, and check. I became so proud of my training, I wanted to tell the world! Of course, my mom knew all about my progress. And as all moms likely do, mine worried that I was running too much. That I had become exercised-obsessed. I don't blame her for perceiving my dedication in this way.

However, there's a fine line between what's "enough" and what's "too much." The main differentiation is in attitude and feelings toward the activity. I know what it's like to be exercised obsessed because I've experienced it. It's when I used to sweat AT LEAST two times a day despite being completely exhausted. It's when running without a watch wasn't even a question I could entertain. It's when I didn't have any plan, so I'd run as fast and far as I possibly could. It's when I'd rush home to calculate from miles run to calories burned. If I didn't do enough, I'd head out for another couple miles or minutes.

The summer I was exercised obsessed, I'd wake up at 5:30 to get in my run for the day. Or so I thought. I'd usually run for an hour -- the more hills and speed, the better. I'd go to work all day and then come home. Then, I'd get all this nervous energy. I'd feel like resting for the night wasn't OK -- no, resting felt like laziness. So, I started taking hour (or more)-long walks. Eventually, I added vigorous biking to my routine. I'd then wake up, bike AND run. Go to work. Come home and run again. Just a few miles at first, then entire second workouts. Almost every single day. I even occasionally missed going out with friends to get in my extra workouts.

I realized I had a problem when I ran a PR at a 5K, drove home, and headed out for a "cool down" run . . . where I continued to push myself as hard and fast as I could until I nearly cried from the pain in my gut. I had just run a race. A person best at that. Exercise wasn't fun anymore. It was something I HAD to do. That night, why couldn't I just celebrate my victory? Why wasn't that run enough for me? Though I continued to struggle through the rest of that summer, that particular night was a wakeup call. I slowly pulled myself from afternoon workouts by hanging out with friends, cooking and baking, and enjoying other activities.

It was EXTREMELY difficult to change my habits -- I had programmed into my mind that my routine was healthy. But after all that exercise, I had lost a lot of weight. I was tired and getting sick often. I didn't have time to enjoy anything else in life. Constant movement also impacted my sleep and mental well-being. What helped me get out of this pattern was recognizing that my "addiction" wasn't just linked to my desire to be fit. I was dealing with a lot in my life that summer, and my anguish manifested itself through my over-exercise.

I cannot define what's right or wrong for you specifically. It's all in how YOU feel. It depends on your goals and experience. We're all at different levels with our training. So, all you can do is be honest with yourself. Now I'm in a good place with my training. Even though I'm running more miles than I did back in my exercise-obsessed days, I pay attention to my body when it hurts or needs rest. I do the workouts in my training plan, and no more. My supplemental exercise is just that: Light (keyword LIGHT) activity outside my normal routine. Anything I do in addition to my runs is for fun. Truly.

I now see exercise and training as part of my life -- not my entire life. Though I'm putting in tons of miles for the marathon, I'm treating myself well. I'm paying attention to the signals my body is sending me. I'm OK with missing workouts. And I enjoy what I'm doing.

Here are just a few articles and resources that can help you if you think you or someone you know may have a problem. Even if you don't, it's good to study this information.
Have you overcome exercise addiction? Do you have any tips to share with others who may be struggling? We'd love to hear/share your story. Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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