Exercise: how much is too much?

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How often do you go to the gym? Once, twice a week? Or is it every once in a blue moon, when your trousers are becoming that little bit too tight as you reach for the third can of beer that evening, oh and a pizza is on its way?! It may seem that very few of us actually have this exercising-to-healthy-eating ratio sussed.

When going away to university for the first time, many people find it extremely difficult to cope with the new pressures of actually having to cook for themselves, and so resort to the many take-away menu’s we have shoved under our door. I mean, who can resist that 10% discount, and free delivery?! So going from a svelte size 10 to a podgy-around-the-edges size 14, you feel it’s time to, literally, get your ass in shape. After forking out the pricey £160 for the all-inclusive gym membership, people feel they need to regularly attend the gym to burn off those piling pounds, if not only to get their money’s worth. It is at this point that we should all stop and think, how much is too much?

Exercise is a good thing if it’s done for the right reasons—that is, to improve or maintain physical fitness and overall general health. As with everything in life, exercise needs to be taken in moderation. Some people however, don’t seem to be able to grasp this concept, and are as a result putting their health, and ultimately life, in danger.

According to Cardiac Risk in the Young, every week 8 fit and healthy young people die in the UK from undiagnosed heart conditions. Now I don’t want this to be completely morbid, but what I’m trying to say is: know your limits. If you’ve had a heavy night, and you decide you should hit the gym in the morning, then take it easy. Walk instead of run on the treadmill, or even opt for a leisurely dip in the pool. Of course I am not condoning exercise, but for those of you who spend hours in the gym, day after day, just think about the long term damaging effects it will have on your body.

Recently there were reports in the news that women who go to the gym more than twice a week using the cardiovascular equipment (the treadmill and cross-trainer) are running the risk of having hip and knee joint problems in later life. Excessive exercise can also greatly affect your hormones. There has been a lot of press coverage of Madonna; about her obsession with the gym and how it has damaged her body. She now has to wear her leg strapped up a lot because of the damage she has done to her knees through over exercising.

For those of you who think your friend may be a compulsive exerciser, according to www.disordered-eating.co.uk these are the signs to look out for: exercising at length (perhaps for one to two hours or more); exercising most days or every day, sometimes several times each day; exercising regularly at a vigorous intensity; exercising even at times when they are feeling unwell or have an injury; exercising in unusual places and at odd times, such as the bed or shower, because the person is trying to hide the amount of exercise they are doing; and being withdrawn due to exercising interfering with their normal everyday life.

People who exercise excessively often suffer from anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, and worry about their weight  Exercise becomes a way of dealing with these emotions and gaining a sense of control over their lives. Once you start this exercising binge, it is hard to get out of it. It may take a while, but once the problem has been identified, gradually cutting down on the amount of exercise and even varying the exercise should help. Maybe try a team sport, such as netball or rounders, where the emphasis is on team spirit and making new friends – rather than body image. That way you’ll still be exercising and keeping fit, but in a much more relaxed, healthy and fun way.

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