Compulsive exercising: How much is too much?

By on February 7, 2007

With constant talk about the “Freshman 15,” high-calorie alcohol consumption, and late-night pizza binges, it’s difficult to believe that some college students may actually be hitting the gym too much. Some researchers say that following up on those New Years’ resolutions may often sound like a good idea (and it is), but when taken too far, over-exercising can lead to many physical and mental problems.

In most cases, individuals do not realize that they are exercising too much, but there are clear warning signs. According to “,” there are many symptoms associated with over-exercising including a loss of energy, insomnia, loss in appetite and frequent headaches. Excessive exercise can even lead to injuries and joint pain as well. If these symptoms persist, scaling down the amount of exercise is often the best course of action.

This obsession with working out often results when individuals do not know how much exercise is “too much.” According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the average person should burn about 2,500 to 3,000 calories per week, depending on weight and diet. For a little perspective, a Big Mac and a large order of french fries from McDonald’s is equivalent to about 1,100 calories.

The best way to burn calories at the gym is through aerobic exercise such as walking, running and cycling. The typical college student should get aerobic exercise three to five days per week ranging from 20 to 60 minutes each day. For all of the weight-lifters out there, resistance training should only be performed two to three days per week, according to the ACSM.

Resistance training is any exercise that deals with muscle-building and involves weights or pulley systems. To avoid injury, workouts should not be repetitive and should instead concentrate on different muscle groups during each workout. Some major muscle groups that are often targeted in resistance training include the chest, shoulders, back, quadriceps and biceps.

Fueling up after a workout is just as important as the workout itself. Depending on the intensity of the workout, the body needs a good ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats replenished. Without nutrients, the body is unable to recover and working out becomes more dangerous. Post-workout fuel helps to maximize the benefits of exercise as well.

However, if working out becomes more important than friends, family or school, the problem may be more than a desire for the perfect beach body.

Some individuals may develop a condition know as “compulsive exercising,” which is actually a mild form of bulimia. Serious cases may include depression and severe guilt over missing workouts. With this condition, working out is no longer enjoyable, but becomes more of an obsession. Many people who experience compulsive exercising tendencies base their workouts on the amount of food they consume that day. For example, “I just ate a cookie, so I need to go run it off.” Workouts should not be performed in this manner, as calories need to be consumed and stored for energy at the risk of danger to the body.

Athletes are often the most susceptible to over-exercising. Due to the competitive nature of college sports, athletes are put under extreme pressure to perform at their best. For some, this means training excessively or through injuries. Ignoring one’s body is never a safe idea, especially in the world of competitive sports.

While athletes may be able to train harder than the everyday gym-goers, the same risks of overtraining are still present.

Exercise can be a very positive thing. It produces endorphins and helps to cut out bad fats. However, if left unchecked, over-exercising can actually do harm to the body, setting those New Year’s resolutions even further back.


About John McKenna