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Over-exercising: When workouts cross the line, become harmful instead of healthful

Public health messages about obesity and Americans' need for more physical activity can be hard to avoid yet for a small but growing number of people, too much exercise is the problem.

Weight Training

Over-exercising, or compulsive exercising, can cause insomnia, bone fractures and other problems and is an increasingly prevalent issue hitting college campuses. Generally considered an issue related to eating disorders, over-exercising involves exercising for an extreme length of time, often through illness or injury.

"Curing eating and exercise disorders has proven costly and difficult; prevention is where we should be focusing our attention," said Andy Fry, assistant director of fitness and wellness for Campus Recreational Sports at Indiana University Bloomington.

Fitness clubs and college campuses nationwide are beginning to pay more attention to conditions surrounding body image issues, but this poses a challenging paradox. With business interests and national guidelines that encourage Americans to exercise more, the concept of gym facilities limiting patrons' exercise habits seems contradictory.

"Fitness professionals and gym employees need to be conscientious enough to know when our product transitions from being beneficial to being detrimental to our participant's health," Fry said. IU has incorporated programs to address body image and protocols for addressing over-exercising, which can be distressing to people nearby, not just the person with the condition.

"Allowing people to continue to endanger themselves in our facilities sends a message that it is an acceptable practice and that is the exact opposite of our mission at Campus Recreational Sports," Fry said. "We connect, inform and inspire people to lead active, healthy lifestyles."

More about over-exercising:

  • The physical and mental health consequences of over-exercising can include depression, insomnia, bone fractures and arthritis.
  • Behaviors include exercising through illness or injury; exercising for more than two hours a day, most days of the week; and excessive exercising coupled with an additional body-image issue
  • Treatment should address physical and mental health concerns. If you suspect someone you know is suffering from over-exercising, managers at your gym facility or a physician can refer you to a specialist who can help with mental health or body image issues.

To read more articles from Campus Recreational Sports in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, visit

-- by Allison Hendricks