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Are you addicted to the gym? When exercise becomes unhealthy

Jessica Padykula is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, Canada covering a wide range of  topics for several online lifestyle publications. She is a regular contributor for SheKnows, covering travel, style, relationships, health and...

Too much of a good thing

Is there such thing as too much exercise? We're delving into what's healthy, what isn’t and what happens when you hit the gym too much.

Exhausted woman after workout

We asked Jessica Corbin, fitness expert and creator of Vitness RX, for her insight into how much exercise is too much, when to take a step back and why you should.

Signs of an unhealthy gym attachment

Working out is healthy, right? Most of the time getting to the gym or fitting in your daily jog is great, but it is possible to overdo it. “I think the fastest way to determine if someone has an unhealthy relationship with the gym or working out is how they are outside of the gym,” says Corbin. “You know you are a bit obsessed with fitness if the other vital aspects of life, including family, friends, work, community and having fun always take a back seat to your workouts,” she explains. If you really are a true exercise addict, there will also be other symptoms. “You will go through withdrawals that will include anxiety, irritability and depression when you can't get your fitness fix,” notes Corbin.

Negative effects of too much exercise

Spending too much time working out can have negative effects on your body, something referred to as “overtraining syndrome.” Symptoms include fatigue, decrease in performance, insomnia, headaches, feeling unmotivated, loss of appetite and a weaker immune system, says Corbin. The best way to determine if you are overtraining is to take your heart rate variability (HRV) every morning to see how well you recovered from your previous workout. “HRV provides a window into the nervous system and indicates how stressed the nervous system is on a day-to-day basis,” she explains.

Why people get carried away

There are a lot of reasons people end up addicted to the gym. It all depends on the type of person you are and what’s motivating you. “One of the most prominent reasons people get carried away with their fitness is that it gives them a sense of control over their life," Corbin explains. However, this control can get out of balance, and when that happens, self-empowerment tips into obsession. “When one becomes obsessed, exercise then becomes more of a self-imposed prison rather than a vehicle for optimal health and wellness.”

Too much of a good thing

Even though you might think that the more time you spend at the gym, the healthier you’ll be (or the faster you’ll get that bikini bod), you can have too much of a good thing. “Too many hours in the gym will, in fact, sabotage your fitness goals and decrease your enjoyment for life in general,” says Corbin. “When you exercise too much, you are robbing the body of the vital resources it needs to repair and recover from life's stresses. Rest and recovery days are critical aspects of training,” she explains. Exercise-obsessed people don't recognize this, and they can find themselves depleted in the biological building blocks they need to attain their fitness goals.

Note: If you have more specific fitness goals, talk to a trainer or other fitness professional to get a plan that works for you, but that doesn’t take the fun out of fitness or have you working out to the point of harming yourself.

Achieving a healthy balance

If you’re not sure just how much exercise is healthy, Corbin points to The American Council on Exercise (ACE). They recommend at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. ACE also recommends incorporating strength training at least twice a week.

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