How Too Much Exercise Can Damage Your Mental Health

When I was in grade eleven, I took it upon myself to begin running every day. I was a highly active person, playing rugby five days a week, and endurance was a key component of the sport I was then obsessed with.

At first, I began my running habits in a gradual manner. I would run for twenty or twenty-five minutes a day, and this schedule lasted for approximately a month or so. After a while, my body adapted to this duration of exercise, so I increased my runs to thirty to thirty-five minutes. I felt fantastic; my cardio was stronger than it ever had been, and I found myself failing to tire easily when I was playing a game of rugby. After a while, however, thirty-five minutes became an insignificant amount of time to run for, and so I increased the length of my runs once again.

This pattern continued for approximately one year, and at one point I was running for over an hour each day. These runs would occur after rugby practice which involved a three-kilometer run – I would go from practice to the gym and run until I felt sick. I saw nothing wrong with my behavior, however after I began to drastically lose weight, I acknowledged that I had become addicted to exercise.

This addiction slowly progressed into an eating disorder. I was told by an eating disorder specialist that I was dealing with a combination of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia, the purging element affiliated with Bulimia being my obsessive running. I lost weight rapidly and significantly damaged my body in the process, the aftermath of this damage still resonating with me today. I attended counseling, therapy, and check-ups for six months, and despite overcoming my eating disorder and returning to a healthy weight, I permanently damaged my mind and body to such a severe extent I can no longer engage in cardio exercise, specifically running.

I still exercise daily, however, I do so in a responsible and controlled manner. I abide by a routine that exercises my key muscle groups and does not incorporate running, and to this day, I fear running. I fear it because I believe it could trigger something obsessive as it did before, and as much as I miss running and the emotional release it allowed me to feel, I recognize the fact that I likely will not be a runner again.

My situation is what some may refer to as extreme, however, I believe exercise, when not conducted responsibly and in a healthy manner, can be incredibly damaging to an individual’s mental health. Exercise is and should be a choice. It is not a practice that is intended to consume your thoughts and drive you to to be ill, nor is it intended to be perceived as a self-destruction mechanism. Exercise is something intended to aid in the overall enhancement of physical and mental health, and in my case, it did the exact opposite.

Featured image via Anupam Mahapatra on Unsplash


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.