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Over-exercising can lead to health problems

December 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Exercise is great for your health, but is there a point where it's unhealthy to exercise too much? Over-exercising can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. Here's how you can stay active without overdoing it.

We're a nation battling obesity. Too many of us live an extremely sedentary life. Yet some go the opposite direction and could suffer some negative effects.

"From what they said, about 10 to 20 percent of people who are really compulsive about this," said psychologist Dr. Rick Shuman.

Shuman is talking about over-exercising. While all of us understand that exercise provides a laundry list of benefits, a Columbia University study found that overdoing it may do more harm than good.

"Beyond about seven and a half hours of exercise a week, you now get not only diminishing returns, you get detrimental effects as a consequence of it," said Shuman. "Everything from increasing levels of depression, anxiety, injuries, immune system breaking down, and it's no longer a benefit to them even thought they feel this drive to do it."

And our compulsions are gender-specific. Men with the "Adonis Effect" want to become larger, while women would like to be smaller versions of themselves.

"It's rare to meet any woman who is really comfortable in her own skin," said Shuman.

Another population of concern is Baby Boomers, who aren't wanting to give up their youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it "Boomer-itis." On average 2.5 million people age 50 and older end up in the emergency room with over-exercise-related injuries.

Health experts find up to four hours a week, around a half-hour a day, is best for mental and physical health.

Shuman says a bigger issue is those who don't exercise at all. But there's a definite concern when a person feels anxiety and frustration if they miss a workout.

The idea should be:

"Exercise being built around your life, rather than your life being built around exercise," said Shuman. "In terms of mood, sex life, energy, fighting all kinds of diseases, that shouldn't get lost in the story."

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